From a criminologist, we should restore voting rights

I have donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center in the past (recently my workplace, HMS, matched contributions). I no doubt do not 100% agree with their positions on every little detail (as is probably true for every organization in the criminal justice sphere) , but I believe they do good work. In particular I’ve always though that their identifying hate groups is a valuable public service, see the SPLC’s Hate Map.

They do more work than just the hate group map though. Recently they have been sending information on voter disenfranchisement. It is not uniform across states, but in many places if you have a felony conviction you have your rights to vote stripped entirely. It is even more severe in some places, in that you cannot vote if you simply owe fines or fees to the state.

I figured this would be a good blog post, as I have always had a more extreme view on this than most people. While most argue simply that individuals voting rights should be restored after an individuals imprisonment has ended, I don’t believe they should ever be stripped to begin with. Or more specifically, I believe people who are even currently incarcerated should be allowed to vote.

The reasons I have this opinion are relatively simple. First, there is no evidence that voter disenfranchisement acts as a deterrent to prevent someone from committing a crime. No one thinks, hey, I shouldn’t commit this robbery because I need to cast my ballot this fall. Restoring voting rights, even to those imprisoned, poses no threat to public safety.

The second reason I support restoring voting rights is because an important part of offender reintegration into society is to participate in civil matters. We don’t lock people up and throw away the keys, so we should take steps to help those former offenders come back and have a positive contribution to our society. What simpler way than to allow those individuals to engage in the voting process? (The foremost authority on this subject is Vesla Weaver.)

You may ask how would voting in prison work? For voting in prison the location of the vote should not count where the jail is located, but wherever the last address of the offender was before they were incarcerated. This brings up another issue, that certain state census counting procedures count individuals incarcerated at the location of the prison. This results in gerrymandering, where typically rural areas with prisons get more electoral representation, even though for the most part those individuals have no voting rights.

I believe we would be better off as a nation if not only everyone was allowed to vote, but that everyone did vote.