When looking at Judith Shklar’s piece on voting and standing we discussed how African Americans and women were excluded in history. But who is excluded now? A large group is seen as less than citizens, and that is felons. This is not to say that criminals should punished, but there needs to be a restitutive approach rather than repressive. A felony is determined by state criminal laws yet voting is a federally instituted freedom thus people are committing the same crimes in different states and some are losing their right to vote while others are not.
Is disenfranchising American citizens for committing a crime repressive or restitutive? The disenfranchisement of felons also comes with the lack of job opportunities as well as lack of public welfare. At this point it becomes repressive, these people have no voice as Shklar would say and are not able to have the same standing. After they have fulfilled their sentencing their life is never the same. There are almost 6 million Americans that are unable to vote according to the sentincingproject.org. For a comparison, that is the same as the entire population of the state of Wisconsin. Seeing that the entire population of Wisconsin does not vote because of age or lack of participation. The six million felons would have a huge impact on our elections.
This map of the United States shows the current laws in place that disenfranchise felons. Each shade of blue represents at which point a felon is limited in their ability to vote.
There are many types of felonies varying by state. The policy of restoring rights also varies by state. There are currently only two states that take a complete restitutive approach to felon voting, Maine and Vermont do not restrict voting at all. Felons are able to vote during prison, parole, and probation. However, there are twelve states that restrict voting even after being released and completing probation. The lack of consistency is a major issue when restoring rights for criminal offenders. It is understandable to not be able to vote while in prison, however there needs to be an overarching decision when it comes to who loses their standing and who does not.
We also see the same argument of voting and citizenship when discussing Frederick Douglass’ work. He makes the point that those that are already standing citizens try to keep it exclusive to themselves. Felons and losing their right to vote is often given the argument, “well they’re criminals so they made that choice.” By not being able to vote, their punishment now lasts for the rest of their lives. They are now stripped of their standing and never equal to those in their community once their sentence is completed.
American citizenship is unique because it comes with a list of liberties. We have the right to vote, but it is a choice not a requirement. Felons lose this right and their right may never be restored. There needs to be an evolving level of decency when it comes to crime and punishment. The retraction of voting is repressive and felons thus lose their standing as American citizens. America needs to create a federal statue deciding how to approach voting and felons.