Felons Voting

Update: A blog entry has been posted on the ACLU’s site with the author describing her experience of being disenfranchised after completing probation. The fact that someone can be punished for a crime after already having been punished is simply asinine!

A few months ago a question popped into my head after reading an opinion piece: If all felons were allowed to vote, what effect might they have on elections? I wrote it down and eventually busied myself with other work. Since election day is tomorrow, I figured I’d come back to this question. In the interim I came across a number of pieces in the media on similar subjects.

Jon Stewart and John Oliver both discussed felons and prison culture on their respective shows. The Daily Show featured an interview with Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver went into greater detail on the prison system as a whole, including touching on private prisons (a horrible concept I won’t touch on for now).

A couple weeks ago I came across a reddit post linking to an article stating that 73 percent of Americans favor restoring voting rights for non-violent drug offenders. I’m still not sure why violence is a factor. If we assume those convicted of violent offenses are safe to live amongst society, what harm will voting do? This gets me back to my original question regarding the effect of felons voting. Say, hypothetically, all the felons were allowed to vote in a federal election on an issue such as removing all mandatory minimum sentences. Would this voting bloc be large enough to sway the outcome?

It turns out another blogger did all the work for me. Barry Sussman has a very detailed piece entitled How Many Convicted Felons are there in the U.S.? that sources a lot of data on felons.

One stat that helps answer the question at hand is the number of felons unable to vote in the 2008 presidential election: 5.3 million, or about 2.5% of adults in the U.S. This number isn’t exact, but it does aid in answering the question. Fortunately—we haven’t prosecuted every citizen, this voting bloc would not be enough to completely win an election, but it could tip the scales in elections that might normally be close. Of course this assumes (a) all felons vote for the same issues/candidates, and (2) they actually show up to vote!

That’s my random bit of trivial research. Remember to vote!