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The Civil Death

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Message Bryan Daugherty
Between four million and five million otherwise eligible voters nationwide are estimated to have lost their federal voting privileges because of current and past felony convictions. As many as 40 percent of that number are African-American; Women represent about 500,000 of those. In some cases, released ex-felons are not routinely informed regarding the steps necessary to regain their right to vote and often believe?incorrectly?that they can never vote again. Moreover, even if they seek to have the vote restored, few have the financial and political resources needed to succeed. All states except Maine and Vermont bar felons from voting, though some allow felons to regain their right to vote in some circumstances. Revolutionary Father Thomas Paine said: ?The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another.? The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, enacted in 1870 following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves free men, declared: ?The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.? However, the Supreme Court in the 1974 case Richardson v. Ramirez, Justice Rhenquist?s reading of Section 2, ruled that felony disenfranchisement could not be challenged under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, therefore leading recent suits brought under the Voting Rights Act, which bars imposition of any burden that results in the denial of voting rights "on account of race or color." The Rehnquist opinion in Richardson v. Ramirez read the provision as an exception to the Equal Protection Clause of Section 1 of the Amendment and a grant of authority to the states to disfranchise any person convicted of a crime. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads in pertinent part: ?No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.?

To fulfill the standard established by the Voting Rights Act, members of a protected class would have to fully demonstrate that they were investigated, arrested, prosecuted and convicted (therefore becoming disenfranchised) by profound numbers, thus out of proportion to their propensity to commit crime because of racial profiling and other discriminatory practices. For scores of years, applications for restoring voting rights have languished without official action. For that neglect, fourteen States disenfranchise ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the offense. In eight States, a pardon or order from the Governor is required for an ex-offender to regain the right to vote. In two States, ex-offenders must obtain action by the parole or pardon board to regain that right. In at least 16 States, Federal ex-offenders cannot use the State procedure for restoring their voting rights. The only method provided by Federal law for restoring voting rights to ex-felony offenders is a Presidential pardon. Persons who seek to have their voting rights restored are many times indigenous and do not have the financial and political resources needed to succeed. Thirteen percent of the African-American adult male population, or 1,400,000 African-American men, are disenfranchised. Given current rates of incarceration, 3 in 10 African-American men in the next generation will be disenfranchised at some point during their lifetimes. Hispanic citizens are also disproportionately disenfranchised, since those citizens are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Given current rates of incarceration, the Sentencing Project estimates that up to 40 percent of African American men may permanently lose their right to vote.

It should not be construed a mere coincidence that felony disfranchisement laws are progressively severe in Southern States, who have the un-precedented ?150 year, post-Civil War history of crafting laws to prevent the descendants of former slaves from voting ? including poll taxes, literacy tests and a host of other barriers which disparately impacted the poor and the under-educated.? Recently, In Johnson v. Bush which was brought before the 11th Circuit in Florida, where currently, state law supports disenfranchisement for ex-felons permanently unless the Governor approves their restoration of voting rights. In both Maine and Vermont, eligibility to vote for felons goes un-revoked. Certainly, there must be some standardization for our federal government elections.

If the strength of a democracy depends on voluntary participation of its citizens, how can we deny the basic Constitutional right to vote of those citizens that have successfully completed their debt to society? If a judge hands down a sufficient and appropriate sentence and that sentence is then carried out entirely, fundamental fairness dictates that we allow these voices to participate in all political practices. Congress has ultimate supervisory power over Federal elections, an authority that has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court; Although; State laws determine the qualifications for voting in Federal elections. We must as a society restore the fairness in the Federal election process by ensuring that ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences are not denied the right to vote. I implore New York State Senators as well as all politicians, state and federally to actively support and endorse this legislation. It shall not extend voting rights to prisoners. Nor shall it extend voting rights to ex-felons on parole, nor extend voting rights to ex-felons on probation, Further, it restores the right to vote to those individuals who have completely served their sentences, including probation, parole, fines and restitution. This legislation would only apply to Federal elections, perhaps becoming a template for possible Local and State ruling bodies.

The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless, at the time of the election, such individual --

(1) Is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility; or

(2) Is on parole or probation for a felony offense.

If convicted of a felony and sentenced to incarceration, a felon automatically regains the right to vote upon expiration of the maximum time to which he or she was sentenced, or upon discharge from parole, whichever occurs first. If convicted of a felony but not sentenced to incarceration, or if the sentence was suspended, felon's conviction does not affect the right to vote. A first time offender for theft or infamous crime, other than buying or selling votes, the right to vote is automatically restored upon completion of your sentence, including any probation or parole; as well as all fines, court costs, and restitution fully satisfied. Upon a 2nd and subsequent offenses - offender must apply to court for restoration; It is my intention that within this proposed legislation that a person convicted of murder, manslaughter or any felony constituting a sexual offense, treason, or an offense against public administration involving bribery, improper influence or abuse of office, may not have their voting rights restored. A person is forever disqualified from voting if convicted of a crime connected to the exercise of the right to vote, including the buying and selling of votes. When the sentence has been fully discharged, including parole, a felon and/or supervising agency should receive a certificate from the Department of Corrections stating that he or she has been restored to the full rights of a citizen. The agency having then jurisdiction, should file a copy of the certificate with the sentencing court. After receiving this certificate, the Clerk shall file the certificate with the original record at no fee. Once this is done, the felon must then register to vote.

Perhaps this notion may be disregarded as inconceivable as it has been in the past. Finding that those who have committed the act of a felony: ?{their}..Judgment and character is such [that] they ought not to be making decisions on the most important issues facing our country.? and that of Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity. "They say that people who aren't willing to follow the law shouldn't have a voice in making law." Understandably, it was that same prevalent attitude which suppressed the rights of minority voters until aggressive civil rights advocacy and the passing of statutory reforms was progressively pursued.
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