The voting rights of prisoners are a widely debated issue in many countries. Among developed countries, the United States has the highest incarceration rate. Therefore, the question of prisoners’ voting right is a matter of concern for policymakers and the public as well as for the prisoners themselves. The US citizens serving sentences are entitled to vote in elections in only two states – Maine and Vermont. All the other states prohibit prisoners to vote for a variety of reasons. The debates on this topic have continued for many years, but nobody can convict policymakers to change this rule. This paper aims to observe whether prisoners deserve the right to vote in the United States.
The Right to Vote
In the history of the United States, there was a time when the right to vote was denied to blacks, women, the poor, and young people. The way, in which they had received the right to vote, was one of the evidences of the greatest victories in the annals of the struggle for civil rights. Nowadays, such a phenomenon has become the subject of several philosophical works, in which the authors try to prove that universal suffrage is rather skeptical (Sathanapally 128). In relation to prisoners, their voter ignorance is a challenge for the right to vote, and it is better that they should not vote. Thus, the people, who are sentenced for immoral actions, cannot have the right to vote because they are a threat to society and its citizens. In order to have these right, individuals must have information and become more knowledgeable and capable of voting intelligently. On the contrary, prisoners have been deprived of this right due to their ignorance and antisocial behavior.
The right to vote is a privilege, and prisoners deserve no privileges from society. Consequently, they must be deprived of the right to vote. In fact, this deprivation serves to protect electoral decisions. Many find a solution during elections to be the will of the best part of the population. For sure, prisoners cannot be considered the best part of society. The concept of universal suffrage cannot be applied to prisoners who ignore the law of the country where they live. Consequently, the country has the right to ignore their preferences as well. The primary goal of any society should be to provide those, who are entitled to participate in the elections, with the opportunity to realize this right. However, inmates can affect this process, thus doing harm to law-abiding citizens.
Balancing Democratic Rights and Public Safety
Democracy does not mean giving equal rights to prisoners and law-abiding citizens. Therefore, prisoners should be prohibited to vote since it could be a part of their punishment. They have committed crimes against society, and those convicted of these crimes have no rights to influence the fate of others. It seems that the right to vote for prisoners is a step either to the highest democratic standards or the democratic utopia. Many experts argue why basic democratic values, namely political freedom, must be given to the people who do not have any moral values or respect for the law and the rights of others (Easton and Piper 117). It would be logical that while serving a sentence of imprisonment, the convicts could undergo a process of rehabilitation and correction, repent for the committed crime, and only after their return to society, they would have the right to participate in its political life.
Historically, a criminal offense required full punishment. Therefore, it was logical that in addition to the deprivation of liberty, prisoners were denied the right to vote. It showed how the verdict of the court had emphasized public reprimand to the offender. The public opinion about the people, who commit crimes, has not changed since the old times. Almost all of them are deprive of the overall level of safety. Admittedly, the total number of prisoners currently reaches almost 1.5 million (Greene 94). At the same time, the right to vote is given to only 3,897 persons serving sentences in the states of Maine and Vermont (Sathanapally 153). As a result, the possibility of free will is denied to 5,580,000 prisoners (Green 95). This includes former prisoners, who have been already released, and those released on parole as well as the current contingent of prisons.
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A Common View on the Prisoners’ Right to Vote
For some reason, some human rights experts have decided that the right to vote is the basic right of every human being (Easton and Piper 126). Moreover, many opponents of these restrictions claim that prisoners should also have the right to vote because they are human beings. Having committed a crime, a person has received a sentence and has been placed in jail. Therefore, nobody can deprive him of his other rights, including the right to vote. Prisoners have carried responsibility for their actions, and it does not mean that they should be lose some of their rights until the end of their lives. The Constitution maintains the right of people to vote excepting those, who are mentally ill, non-citizens, children, and those who do not meet the standards in self-government (Barrett 2). Obviously, a majority of prisoners do not meet such standards. Typically, voters have intentions to improve the life of society and their own. Possibly, it can give them extra responsibility that encourages them to overview their social position and behavior. Thus, they should not lose the privilege to vote.
Nevertheless, logically, it should be exactly the opposite. After all, the right to vote gives people an opportunity to affect not only their own lives, the lives of their children, relatives, and co-workers, but also the fate of millions or even hundreds of millions of people who live with them in the same country (Easton and Piper 127). People, who are not able to bring the minimum order into their own destiny, cannot be trusted to determine the fate of the entire country and be on a par with its best citizens. In the USA, where more than two million people are in prison, their votes can reverse the outcome of the election because the outcome of presidential elections is sometimes influenced by several thousand votes.
Hence, most prisoners are released back into society, trying to integrate back into it. In this regard, many opponents support the opinion that they should receive the right to vote because they cannot be treated like victims until the end of their lives (Lara). Nevertheless, those already convicted after the rehabilitation are at a high risk to be reconvicted for any other crime. Admittedly, according to the US Bureau of Justice, about two-thirds of released individuals are rearrested for other crimes during a couple of years after release (Lara). There is no doubt that many prisoners simply have made bad decisions in their lives, which led them to prison. However, they must prove their right to become law-abiding citizens after parole, probation, and rehabilitation. They cannot reenter society automatically just due to the fact they are released.
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The right to vote is an important right that gives people the opportunity to determine their own future through a free choice, based on their personal views. However, this right has been never absolute since various constraints can be imposed on different groups of people. Consequently, it is difficult to claim that prisoners, who have committed serious crimes, should enjoy the right to vote. Reentering society after release, they should prove their ability to become law-abiding citizens who do not pose any threat to others.