On April 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a sweeping executive order that changed the lives of 200,000 ex-felons in Virginia, instantly restoring their right to vote. This order leaves only Kentucky, Florida and Iowa with blanket lifetime disenfranchisement policies for ex-felons. In these three states, no citizens convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, regardless of the crime committed, absent government-granted exceptions to the policy. Governor McAuliffe’s act is a reminder that public support for giving ex-felons the right to vote after prison is significant, and growing—but this type of order doesn’t go far enough. Ex-felons should be able to vote, yes. But so should prisoners themselves.
To some, the idea may seem risky, unnecessary or even unconscionable. But in fact, there are good reasons to embrace it. For one, our constitutional ideals support the right of prisoners to vote, and denying it violates the concept of self-government that the founders cherished. Granting this right also makes sense for the country in terms of politics and policy. As prisons have grappled with the explosion in their populations in the past 20 years, allegations of prisoner maltreatment multiply, and criminal justice reform moves to the fore of our political debate, we should consider that one of the best ways to solve these intractable and expensive problems would be to listen to those currently incarcerated—and to allow them to represent themselves in our national political conversation.
In the United States, the debate about prison voting rights is virtually nonexistent. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow the practice. If anything, the movement has gone backward: Massachusetts and Utah both revoked this right in the past two decades. In Massachusetts, this occurred via state referendum after some state inmates organized a political action committee, setting off a harsh rebuke from the state’s governor, who stated, “Criminals behind bars have no business deciding who should govern the law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Full Article: Why Prisoners Deserve the Right to Vote – POLITICO Magazine.