a bird and a bottle

Felons and the Franchise in Florida
March 6, 2007, 12:59 pm
Filed under: civil rights, criminal justice, law, news, news & views, politics

Don’t you just love that alliteration?

Surprising good news out of Florida today. The NY Times has an editorial praising Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s proposal to re-enfranchise people who have served their prison sentences. The Times reports:

As it stands now, Floridians who want their voting and civil rights restored must apply to a slow-moving state clemency board that meets only four times a year and has an enormous backlog of cases. The state attorney general recently suggested enlarging the overall staff and having the clemency board meet more frequently, but more substantial action is needed.

Gov. Charlie Crist has a better idea: automatically restoring voting rights to felons who complete their sentences. In a recent speech, Mr. Crist pledged to lead the movement for the restoration of voting and civil rights for ex-offenders in Florida and hinted that he might do so by issuing an executive order.

Praise Crist.

This is a big deal. The U.S. is unique in our draconian approach to the voting rights of ex offenders who have served their prison sentences. The Times notes the differences:

The United States stands alone in the free world when it comes to laws that strip convicted felons of the right to vote — sometimes for life — even after they complete their sentences and go on to crime-free lives. Of the more than five million citizens who were barred from the polls in the last presidential election, virtually all would have been free to vote in nations like Canada, France or Britain.

While Scalia would say that what other countries do doesn’t matter, I think it does. Comparing ourselves to other countries can help expose our country’s punitive tendencies, and perhaps help us realize that we are out of step with international expectations and human rights.

The U.S.’s default position, from which some states are now moving away, ensures that former prisoners have no political voice. Ever. Which decreases considerably the number of voices to whom the government has to respond when evaluating prison conditions or the criminal justice system more broadly. Especially when we consider how elected representatives benefit from having prisons in their districts.

We cannot continue to punish people once they have served the time to which they have been sentenced. Barring them from voting continues their punishment ad infinitum — and makes sure they can’t complain about it. Not so much the essence of democracy, is it?


5 Comments so far
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Thank you deeply for this writing and highlighting of wha is going on in Florida. I had no idea of the facts you outline, and it’s truly distrubing.

Keep up the good work. I’ll be back.


Comment by slivermoon22

Agreed. Of course, given Florida’s swing status, it’s hard to imagine that people will focus on anything other than how this might change the 2008 presidential election. But you’ve focused on just the right issue: not the horse race but the core values of our democracy.
thanks for the great post.

Comment by professorplum

[…] the US Needs Prison Reform Bean’s post about one of the fringe benefits of the prison-industrial complex – namely, that inmates are counted in the census for […]

Pingback by Why the US Needs Prison Reform « Abstract Nonsense

[…] post about one of the fringe benefits of the prison-industrial complex – namely, that inmates are counted in the census for […]

Pingback by appletree » Blog Archive » Why the US Needs Prison Reform

hi my name is will no i didn’t gradutate high school but there are other out there who have not either but why will society except this person but not me to have a stupid job garbage man ,mail man ,and hell mac donalds i dont care about nothing except being able to be a man and take care of my family without haveing to think out side the box and find ways legal and illegal to make money fuck this in its own way is modern day slavery a immigrant can get a better job than me because maybe he would not be lock up for some of the stupidity that people would get locked up for in america where do americans run to . to get away from modern day slavery.

Comment by willie

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