right to vote
December 6, 2023 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Pressley, Welch introduce legislation to guarantee right to vote for people with felonies on record
“We are still in the Civil Rights movement and Jim Crow is not behind us when laws and courts continue to disenfranchise voters from all walks of life — including by gutting the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering, cuts to early voting, and more,” Pressley said. “We must reject this unjust status quo and advance bold policies to strengthen our democracy and make it more inclusive.”
The legislation stands long odds of being passed by the Republican-controlled House.
posted by aniola (41 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
My view on this hasn’t changed since I posted this six-and-a-half years ago:
This is one of my key political issues. Every citizen should get to vote. Everyone. If you're in prison, they should bring you a ballot there and make it an official polling place. As you near your release date, you should be given the opportunity to gain whatever photo ID or other documents are necessary to vote in your state. Because if people convicted of crimes aren't allowed to vote, then a sufficiently immoral regime can maintain power by making sure that their opponents are convicted of crimes at a disproportionate rate. That is, of course, exactly what happens in America. Disenfranchisement of convicts is just one facet of the current incarnation of Jim Crow.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:28 AM on December 7, 2023 [63 favorites]

On the whole, I approve of this, but my support becomes shakier when applied to crimes of interfering with an election. I'm not convinced that people who deliberately and maliciously attempt to prevent others from voting, or to fraudulently overturn the results of a fair election, should be allowed to cast votes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:04 AM on December 7, 2023 [13 favorites]

My concern is that if we leave any exceptions, that will just be the new thing that corrupt prosecutors will charge poor people and dark-skinned people with. If all ex-cons can vote except those who interfere with elections, expect a 5000% increase in African-Americans charged with election interference.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:15 AM on December 7, 2023 [40 favorites]

… when applied to crimes of interfering with an election

Voter fraud—for all practical purposes—does not exist in the U.S.  Election fraud however, has an entire political party devoted to refining its application.   The Republican party absolutely loves that we continually conflate and confuse the two terms.  The numbers convicted for either crime though are minuscule, so unless we're going to press charges against the entire Republican Party leadership…

I have no issue ensuring that all citizens have the vote regardless of record.  Hell, I'd take it further if I could.  If you reside in the U.S. and pay taxes in the U.S., you get a vote, citizenship be damned.   No taxation without representation.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:36 AM on December 7, 2023 [14 favorites]

Maybe election fraud should be the one crime you can't be pardoned for, because obviously.

Though I'm sure racist prosecutors would also quickly find a way to weaponize it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:52 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

Favorited los pantaloons del muerte’s comment for the general idea, but tax-paying is the wrong criterion. In particular, folks who don’t make enough to pay taxes shouldn’t be considered lesser members of society, which is historically the strong danger of - and reason why many conservative commentators - focus on tax-payers instead of citizens or residents. I would say that anyone who is a resident of a given community deserves to have a democratic voice within that community (for whatever size we’ve defined the community as in, and whatever manor we’ve chosen as the method of democratic voice). Basically a vote by residency, but for realistic definitions rather than legal definitions of residency as much as possible (I know there are practicalities that will make that impossible to fully define or enforce, but we can endeavour to ensure that people with multiple homes should vote where they mainly live rather than be able to technically establish legal residency somewhere else; also, unhoused people are members of our communities and deserve to have a vote).
posted by eviemath at 5:57 AM on December 7, 2023 [6 favorites]

Participating in election fraud should absolutely preclude someone from serving in elected office. We shouldn’t have so much money in politics in the first place (especially in the US, but even in other countries such as Canada), but I can also see an argument for prohibiting those who have engaged in election fraud from making political contributions. But I don’t see why it should preclude them from merely voting.
posted by eviemath at 6:01 AM on December 7, 2023 [7 favorites]

Similar things happen in law and finance, too. If you commit a financial crime or a non-criminal but ethical violation, you may be stripped of a license or prohibited from working at banks or other financial institutions, but you aren’t barred from having a bank account. You may be kicked off the bar but you can still be represented by a lawyer.

If anything, maintaining the franchise for people convicted of election tampering is an even stronger rebuke of their actions: one person, one vote. Always.
posted by thecaddy at 6:09 AM on December 7, 2023 [10 favorites]

eviemath: Perhaps "anyone over the age of 18 with a Social Security number" would solve the problem you're thinking of, but even then, I am ambivalent-to-against the idea of giving permanent residents (and/or other immigrants) a vote nationwide.

I'm a permanent resident myself, and can already see the problems. First off, it would take away the major incentive to citizenship, which is already an expensive and time-consuming process. Secondly, under certain circumstances, permanent residents can be deported. That would once again leave the right to vote up to the whims of the cops and courts, and worse besides. Of course, any resident immigrant without a green card and/or SSN would potentially have it worse.

Returning the right to vote to people who already had it before, though? I'm all for that.
posted by May Kasahara at 6:15 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

This is getting into derail territory, but technically a citizen means someone who is a member of the democratic polity. So I’m talking about reconfiguring citizenship to be equivalent to residency and much easier to attain, due to following actual fact rather than a bureaucratic application process.

I’m also opposed to two-tier justice systems where the punishment for some people is a fine or some jail time and the punishment for other people also includes exile.
posted by eviemath at 6:21 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

An ideal world is not one where Donald Trump receives no votes.

An ideal world is one where Donald Trump receives one vote.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:29 AM on December 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

An ideal world is one where Donald Trump receives one vote.

And who is supposed to cast that vote? This smells like a Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas situation
posted by phooky at 6:34 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

The point would be Trump would cast that vote, implying two desired or 'ideal' outputs, (1) that he becomes a felon in the near future, but (2) that he will be allowed to vote following this, along with all the other convicted felons.
posted by biffa at 7:00 AM on December 7, 2023 [9 favorites]

Listen, I'm related to a guy who thinks I shouldn't have the right to vote in US elections because I reside in another country permanently. I have a lot of problems with the thinking that you should be able to vote if you reside in the community or country in question. I'm still a US citizen, even if a dual one, and I do care about what happens to people in the US even if it doesn't affect me directly.
posted by Kitteh at 7:09 AM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I didn’t say /only/ residents should be able to vote (though, having grown up largely in a state where lots of rich out-of-staters own property, I do supports some limits on the granularity of that).
posted by eviemath at 7:21 AM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

...oops, with the third ideal being no-one else voting for Trump.
posted by biffa at 7:43 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I care about what happens to people in a lot of places I can't vote. I'm not sure that is a good criterion.
posted by eruonna at 7:58 AM on December 7, 2023 [6 favorites]

I think that determining who is in community when they are not resident is complex: there are some cases where I would say that someone non-resident is part of a community, and other cases where I would say not; and the US federal government’s outsized influence around the world complicates this as well, I feel. None of this is something I could sum up in a pithy Metafilter comment (unlike the case of residents being part of a location-based community).
posted by eviemath at 8:08 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

(Eg. personally, even though I am legally entitled to, I don’t feel right voting for state-level representatives or initiatives in my state of last legal residence in the US, but do vote at the federal level (for my Congressional Representative, Senator, and for President/VP). Possibly if my state of last legal residence had been the one that I have the most historical and personal connection to, I might feel different about at least some of the state-level issues. But I’m not sure that my sympathies and my values would be well-aligned in terms of what I would want to have a voice in versus what I more ethically think I should have a voice in. Since that hasn’t been an issue for me, I haven’t really thought through it at depth and don’t have any firm conclusions, at any rate.)
posted by eviemath at 8:15 AM on December 7, 2023

In an Ideal World certain people would be dead and not casting any votes at all
posted by bq at 8:55 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

On the whole, I approve of this, but my support becomes shakier when applied to crimes of interfering with an election.

I gotta say, I am not worried about the individual votes cast by individual election-fraudsters. Like, when it comes to the defendants in the Georgia indictment, I worry a great deal about the election-related shenanigans committed by them and people like them if they are given any sort of oversight authority in elections. But their votes, as individual members of the polity? They're 19 people, and I don't worry about their 19 votes.

If you're saying that election fraud shoud disqualify one from having any role in election beyond voting, I'd agree with you. But taking away the franchise from them seems like going after entirely the wrong problem. They're not fucking up the country with their votes. They're fucking up the country by screwing around with other people's votes.
posted by jackbishop at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2023 [8 favorites]

I hate that I'm automatically so sour when I read new post titles on MeFi. My first sarcastic thought was that now he wants white felons to get the right to vote, even though lawful disenfranchised voters are denied their right over and over. My second was, how many felons give a damn about voting anyway, with all the other problems they have once they've gotten out? Obviously, the racial demographics of prison society doesn't support that first particular weird mental jump-to-wrong conclusion on my part.

All adults should have the right to vote. I could even be convinced that all taxpayers over the age of 16 and regardless of citizenship should have the right to vote. I have no problems with the majority of felons losing their voting privilege during that period while serving time, but having made restitution, they would have the vote returned. I do have a problem with people committing multiple murderers and some white-collar criminals whose actions are so heinous or ruinous that they have effectively put themselves outside of society. Voting is a right, not a privilege. There should be times society revokes that privilege. But short of doing it on a case by case basis...

Eh, it's exhausting. And I'm so tired and depressed thinking about US politics. Choices range from active evil to mediocre to useless. Even if we had another Carter or Obama to work for a general good, the deck is so stacked against any initial positive outcome, which can be immediately reversed at the next election. I WILL vote, but it feels so futile. I'm going to think about this more and talk to a friend who is a felon about how he feels about this.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:02 AM on December 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

If one believes that the purpose of prison is reform rather than merely punishment, then it follows that part of that reform should be making people responsible citizens. Extending the franchise to currently incarcerated people allows them to participate in the society they harmed, and feel part of that society. If you want good citizens, let them vote.

(I don’t actually believe the purpose of prison is reform, which is why I am an abolitionist. But I’m all for expanding the franchise in every direction.)
posted by Just the one swan, actually at 9:14 AM on December 7, 2023 [7 favorites]

I have no problems with the majority of felons losing their voting privilege during that period while serving time, but having made restitution, they would have the vote returned.

Now think of how to weaponize this. How about petty crimes with huge fines that cannot be cleared in bankruptcy? We can even cap repeyment at 10% of income.

Now we just ensure that people who vote for our opponent get prosecuted, and they haven't repaied their debt, so no votes for them!

One person, one vote. It is simple. It means games of disenfranchizing your opposing party are gone, and the USA has 100s of years of doing that, continuously since it was founded.

You can make it a federal right. You can say incarcerated people vote where they resided when arrested, not where they are.

But make voting inalienable.

If you are criminalizing and stripping votes from enough people for their votes to break the system, the system is already broken and needs fixing.

And if you need to make an exception for rebellion and insurrection, make it a big thing.
posted by NotAYakk at 9:28 AM on December 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

Extending the franchise to currently incarcerated people allows them to participate in the society they harmed, and feel part of that society.

Also would allow all those wrongly convicted to participate in the society that harmed them.
posted by tiny frying pan at 9:32 AM on December 7, 2023 [6 favorites]

The one issue with allowing currently incarcerated people to vote is a practical one of ensuring the privacy of their vote and preventing coercion, given the way prisons and jails tend to be run in the US. (That is entirely an indictment of the US carceral system, not an argument for disenfranchisement.)
posted by eviemath at 10:02 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I don't see how the privacy of the physical act of voting could be harmed - presumably they'd use the same voting machines and procedures we do on the outside. Coercion is more of a concern, but not enough to continue the way it is. Clearly the incarcerated deserve a vote.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:25 AM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I know it's un-American but I looked up some prior art from European countries. Lots of good approaches.
France has a very complex set of rules relating to the type of sentence because disenfranchisement is considered an additional penalty to be imposed as part of the sentence - and therefore it must be proportionate to the offence.

That means that some serious crimes lead to mandatory disenfranchisement - but far less serious crimes lead to temporary bans. Like Bulgaria, the exact nature of the ban is up to the trial judge. Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovakia have similar rules.

In Germany, prisoners lose the vote if they have been convicted of crimes that targeted the state or democratic order. That means that average burglars do not lose the vote, but someone convicted of an act of terrorism or political violence would.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:15 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

It'll be interesting to see what happens if the incarcerated get to vote in local elections, too.
posted by ryanrs at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

One more thing to write to my US Representative about...
posted by hydra77 at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

In an Ideal World certain people would be dead and not casting any votes at all.

Or running for office. More than one comes to mind and one comes to mind more often.
posted by y2karl at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

my support becomes shakier when applied to crimes of interfering with an election

Don't let it worry you. It's not as if letting them vote would make it easier for them to rig elections or something like that.

Everyone should be able to vote, no matter what. I imagine prison towns (like college towns) might be a little wary of inmates of either of those institutions skewing local elections, but if you live most of the year in a certain place, you should be able to vote there.
posted by pracowity at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I looked up some prior art from European countries. Lots of good approaches.
These countries don't have compulsory voting, so I applaud them for allowing prisoners to exercise their right to vote anyway. Here in Australia, voting is compulsory, so it would be hard to take away someone's vote because they are in prison or have a criminal record. Details here but, in summary, prisoners must vote if they are serving a term of three years or less and can't if they are serving a longer sentence. Prisoners are registered at their last address before being incarcerated, including those who turn 18 while in prison. There are no exemptions to the requirement to vote regardless of your criminal record.

Australia also allows certain non-citizens to vote. If you are a British subject or a citizen of various other countries including New Zealand and Canada and were on the Commonwealth electoral roll immediately prior to 26 January 1984, you can continue to be enrolled and, if enrolled, must vote. The right to be added to the electoral roll was removed in 1984 but is currently under review, with consideration being given to allowing New Zealand citizens who are permanent residents to be given back the right to vote.

I've never understood why America stops people from voting because of a criminal record. Well, except that beating already disenfranchised people with a stick seems to be just something America does as a matter of course.
posted by dg at 2:32 PM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

It's the racism. Because the felony record having population is wildly over represented by African Americans removing voting rights disproportionately effects the African American population and many places that all the reason you need.
posted by Mitheral at 4:30 PM on December 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

I don't see how the privacy of the physical act of voting could be harmed - presumably they'd use the same voting machines and procedures we do on the outside.

Nothing I’ve read or heard about prisons indicates that inmate privacy is treated as anything other than a threat or potential threat to prison safety or to guard control and authority, or that anything in a prison is done with the same equipment and procedures as outside.

In particular, in order for one’s vote to be private, one must not be observed during the act of voting. This goes entirely against regular practice and policy in a significant number of prisons. The thinking would go: For voting systems where you use a pencil to fill in a circle on a card, which then gets scanned, that pencil could be taken and used as a weapon. For the punchcard style ballots (like the infamous Florida butterfly ballots from a few US presidential elections ago), the punch could be taken and used as a weapon. For any touchscreen system that has an attached stylus, that cord for the stylus could be broken and the stylus could be taken and used as a weapon. For the touchscreen systems that print a receipt to confirm that one’s vote was recorded accurately, keeping that receipt private within a prison setting could be difficult for incarcerated people in one of the many overcrowded prisons in the US or in one of the higher security prisons where surveillance is near total and prisoner privacy is considered a privilege that must be earned, not a basic human right.

Meanwhile, however, incarcerated people may have lower than average trust in authority, so any touchscreen system that doesn’t produce any sort of paper record may raise suspicions or concerns about whether votes have been accurately recorded (whether valid or not). Even in lower security prisons where inmates are allowed to write letters, inmate mail is generally opened and inspected, so even something like a mail-in ballot would require an exception to the usual mail inspection policies in order to maintain voter privacy; and again incarcerated people may not trust prison guards to actually follow privacy policies for ballots, due to having generally good reasons to have higher than average mistrust of authority. And in order for a vote to be non-coerced, not only must a voter have privacy to cast their ballot, but they must believe that they have privacy.

(To reiterate, these are all issues with carceral processes and policies, not reasons or excuses for disenfranchising incarcerated people. The solution is less incarceration and better policies.)
posted by eviemath at 6:45 PM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I find the idea of picking and choosing which citizens may vote, for any reason, abhorrent.

But my view is certainly affected by political culture – in Canada the right to vote is enshrined in s 3 of the Charter:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Having this as a positive right is a significant force for good in the protection of democratic values. See summary of judicial interpretation here.

Like other Charter rights, infringement can be justified under s 1 (The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.) Restricting it below the age of 18 was held to be justified.

But denying prisoners the right to vote was held unconstitutional in 1995. And again in 2002 for the revised law which applied only to sentences over 2 years.

The 2002 majority judgment sums up why it feels so illogical and perverse to me to deny an incarcerated person the right to vote:
Denying penitentiary inmates the right to vote misrepresents the nature of our rights and obligations under the law and consequently undermines them. In a democracy such as ours, the power of lawmakers flows from the voting citizens, and lawmakers act as the citizens’ proxies. This delegation from voters to legislators gives the law its legitimacy or force. Correlatively, the obligation to obey the law flows from the fact that the law is made by and on behalf of the citizens. In sum, the legitimacy of the law and the obligation to obey the law flow directly from the right of every citizen to vote. As a practical matter, we require all within our country’s boundaries to obey its laws, whether or not they vote. But this does not negate the vital symbolic, theoretical and practical connection between having a voice in making the law and being obliged to obey it. This connection, inherited from social contract theory and enshrined in the Charter, stands at the heart of our system of constitutional democracy.[emphasis added]
posted by lookoutbelow at 6:46 PM on December 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

I would love for felony disenfranchisement to go away entirely. We tried to do that here in Florida a few years back with a constitutional amendment, but our fine legislature overruled the will of the voters by interpreting "complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation" to mean having also paid all fines and court costs even though it's impossible for a person to be absolutely certain that they have done so, especially if their conviction was in the distant past.

Our fine governor then went and made the state police stand up a new election crimes unit (who only seem to target black people) to arrest and charge anyone who registers while still having these submarine fines/fees/costs outstanding with a new felony. Needless to say, it has had a chilling effect on people's willingness to vote.

The point being that we must learn the lessons from Florida's failed attempt at restoring voting rights and not allow any avenue for fuckery. If you want it to be resilient in the face of interference, the most restrictive option possible is that anyone not presently serving a sentence of confinement must be allowed to vote. Personally, I don't see the point in disenfranchisement at all. It just dilutes the moral imperative of the project.
posted by wierdo at 7:02 PM on December 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

In Vermont, citizens do not lose the right to vote, even while in prison. How does voting in prison work? It is not perfect, by any means.
posted by skoosh at 7:43 PM on December 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

I find the idea of picking and choosing which citizens may vote, for any reason, abhorrent.
Absolutely true. I feel like part of the problem in the US is that voting is optional, so certain groups choose to see it as a privilege rather than a right. This, in their eyes, justifies taking that privilege away on spurious grounds.

Where voting is compulsory (something I'm a firm believer in), it is incumbent on the government to ensure that every single person can do so, rather than being incumbent on each individual to climb over whatever barriers people with nefarious intent can dream up. The Australian Electoral Commission visits prisons and sets up polling booths to allow prisoners to vote and prisoners can also elect to vote by mail the same as anyone else can, noting that anyone serving a sentence of more than three years cannot vote while in prison, although they can remain on the electoral roll.

Why do I support compulsory voting? Because I believe living in a democracy imposes an obligation to participate in that democracy and, particularly, the most important feature of democracy, being the election of those who will lead the country.
posted by dg at 7:51 PM on December 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

The details certainly matter. It's another matter where a positive right to vote helps, in that administrative barriers can be challenged. Per this account, there was 50% turnout for prisoners in the 2015 election in Canada. They have to submit a registration form ahead (don't have same day registration as everyone else does), then there's an advance polling day. But photo ID and proof of address are not required, and there are alternative options if they don't know their previous residential address. There are still barriers though, particularly difficulty becoming informed about the issues and candidates.
posted by lookoutbelow at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

In the United States, democracy is a sham. It's a sham in part because of successful vote repression, including but not limited to the denial of the franchise to felons. It's a sham also because the "rule of law" in the US is a sham. The de-facto law of the Unites States is calvinball, and the "right" wing, in the corporate person of the GOP and of innumerable thinktanks and "trade associations", is Calvin. The rest of us don't get a look in unless we make a big stink, exposing ourselves to ridicule, ostracism, arrest, assault, and the kind of murder that goes uninvestigated.

If we want democracy in the US, we have to build it from bottom-up. We form our own associations, we govern ourselves according to best practices that are available to us. Democracy isn't the only nor best method of collective decision-making (in some contexts, consensus decisionmaking is better; in some "ad-hocracy" wins out) and voting isn't the only tool in democracy's kit. When and if we vote, we can decide for ourselves what kind of election we will have. To the extent we are open about it others can learn from our successes and failures how best to make collective decisions.

The Unites States' government is not going to help with this. Most of the state, county or municipal apparatus won't either. If you have a receptive local government, that's a great bonus- but the rest of us will need to route around the "authorities" if we want democracy.

How much do you want it?
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2023

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