On Wednesday, August 5, 2020, the governor of Iowa signed an executive order that would automatically restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences, including probation and parole. People convicted of first and second- degree murder, attempted murder, fetal homicide and some sex offenses would still have to petition the governor to restore these rights though. Governor Kim Reynolds’ order will not force felons to pay all fees and restitution before being allowed to vote. Iowa was the last state to largely deny voting rights to felons. Now, comes the hard part.
The next battlefront for felons’ voting rights are those who haven’t completed their sentences, including those in prison. And that fight’s gonna be a bitch.
In a March 2018 HuffPost and YouGov poll, 68 percent of people who responded supported restoring voting rights to former felons, but in a The Hill and HarrisX poll, 69 percent of registered voters opposed restoring voting rights to those still locked up — including 61 percent of registered Democrats. Some of you reading this probably hold this same view. But hear me out.
First, know that this idea is not without precedent. Maine and Vermont already allow their prisoners vote, while New York allows those on probation or parole to vote. California and Colorado allow inmates in their county jails to vote, with limited exceptions. So if they’re doing it, then everyone else should too!
You’re not buying the bandwagon argument, are you? Darn…I thought I had you…Well I’m not done.
Jamelle Bouie asked in a New York Times opinion piece, ” Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?”
To answer his last question, a lot of society sees prisoners as “other” — that we are somehow fundamentally different than the Average Joe. Let me respond in the nicest way I know how:
That’s bullshit and you know it!
How much stuff did you do that could have gotten you locked up when you were younger? How much stuff are you doing now that would get you locked up if law enforcement decided to make an issue of it? Are you an “other” — someone fundamentally different than your neighbor (Well maybe not “that” neighbor. You know which one. Just don’t look in his basement. Trust me). It’s been said by many law professors that every adult in America can be arrested, tried and convicted of some crime or another. They just haven’t decided to come for you yet.
Still not convinced? Oh come on!…Well…
I’m still not done.
Felon disenfranchisement also has racist roots, whereby laws in the Jim Crow South used the concept of civil death to take away voting power from African Americans by criminalizing their behavior.
In the words of author Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow: “We use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.” One of those practices is not allowing slaves, now called criminals, to vote.
Because let’s face it: It is far easier to think of black people as criminals and thugs than it is to think of yourself as a racist prick.
Still not convinced?
Then why are you reading this blog instead of watching Fox and Friends?
So in closing, I want to affirm that I too am a citizen of this country and want to participate in this democracy of ours. I just screwed up and found myself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. I’m not an “other.”
Except that neighbor of yours. He’s definitely an “other.”
And he scares the crap out of me.