8th Nov 2019 | 23:38
CONVICTED CRIMINALS AND THEIR VOTING RIGHTS
Approaching election season, common topics crop up in the news almost synonymously with it (e.g. the NHS, taxation, public expenditure, education, defences, and as of the last few campaigns, Brexit is an increasingly headlining manoeuvre. A topic that hardly appears on national headlines yet remains a relevant talking point at any form of voting is convicted criminals. A criminal (or felon) can simply be defined as someone who commits an offence and is punishable by law via their actions or omissions. The impacts that follow on from this consequently lead to felons’ disenfranchisement from voting in any form of referendum or election. As such a debatable and contentious subject, it is worth exploring through a conceptual understanding.
The title can be split into the elements of both ‘criminals’ and ‘voting’. Beginning with voting, we can branch this out into a civic right and civic duty. In other words, voters have a right to elect a governor they would like to represent them, whilst also upholding a duty to elect that governor responsibly. It is imperative to point out that that voting is not simply just a right, but an alienable right where certain groups can be prohibited from voting. The question here changes to why criminals are or might be considered an alienated group. In terms of voting, there is another group that we could explore that might help to answer that question, again another contentious topic that appears when voting season arises – the under 18 cohort. Those under 18 are denied voting rights from the electoral system as they are deemed not politically mature to make a rational conclusion. Applying this rationale to criminals, we can use the argument that they are not able to make rational decisions and have an alienable right to vote. As there is no guarantee that they can vote responsibly, they cannot fulfil their civic duty. Such reasoning explains why mandatory voting is argued as an ineffective solution to low voter turnouts (especially in the US, where ‘even worse than low turnout might be alienated voters’).1 In simple terms, how could a democracy function when troublemakers are calling the shots?
However, a key point to point out is that the concept of criminality is binary (either you are or you are not) and fails to construct a spectrum designing the range in severity of the crimes (not every crime is the equivalent of mass murder or genocide). Hence, an argument can be made that certain crimes would alienate you from voting whereas others (e.g. illegal parking or shoplifting) would hardly impede on one’s judgement to vote or ability to vote responsibly. The main question mark here is the point at which a line is drawn. It is difficult to have a defining line when the severity of certain crimes and their impact on voting are seen differently among different people. Regardless of crime though, criminals remain members of society and the governors who are elected are representing criminals as well as non-criminals. From here there are two key arguments in favour of handing criminals a voting right. Firstly, criminals are placed into prisons, confined areas designed to rehabilitate felons in the hope of transforming them into functioning members of society. By prohibiting their vote, the purpose of prisons disappears as it becomes defined, from a political standpoint, that criminals are not part of a functioning society and are not members of such a group. Secondly, prisons fall under the protection of government, so it is logical to think that prisoners ought to have a voice as to who protects them and oversees them in prisons, as they would have the clearest idea of anyone as to which governors would best suit their interests and rehabilitation ambitions.
The conclusion behind this debate rests on a few key points. The definition of a criminal and whether or not you break it down into layers of severity are likely to have a crucial say in your decision to go in favour of or against the voting rights of criminals. The purpose and meaning behind the role of prisons and imprisonment would answer some of the questions and issues I raised in my previous paragraph. Some believe prisons equal a ‘loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights’ while others think it will ‘strengthen their social ties’ when they realise their loss of many freedoms.2 The point that I would like to finish off with, is whether you, or the society you are in, could trust someone who has violated the laws of society to have a say in who governs it (the same society that you are a part of) …
The answers to these questions have a large influence as to how you would view this critical issue.
1Polimedio, C. (2018) Is voting a civic right or a civic duty?, Available at: https://www.vox.com/polyarchy/2018/11/6/18068484/voting-civic-right-civic-duty (Accessed: 5th November 2019).
2AUggen, C., Manza, J. and Aitken, J. (2014) Should felons who have completed their sentence (incarceration, probation, and parole) be allowed to vote?, Available at: https://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000283 (Accessed: 5th November 2019).
Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they are created. I seek to publish content that dives into environmental, social and governance problems, and provide an insight into them through a unique lens and a deeper level, highlighting common misconceptions and assumptions.