Should Felons Have the Right to Vote

Topic: Nelson Mandela
Sample donated:
Last updated: April 24, 2019

Before answering the question about the right of felons to vote it seems that it would be unfair to make a judgment without making any clarification of the matter.

Robert Fischer and Gion Green stated that the federal definition of felony is “an offence punishable by death or by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” (p. 107). Fischer and Green noted that the definition of felony is by no means standard through out the United States. They pointed that in some jurisdiction, “there is no distinction between felonies and misdemeanors” (p. 107).In the memorandum issued by the king county superior court on 27 March, 2006, in a case Madison v. State the court concludes that felons who have no problems with their remaining sentence but have problems on their financial obligation would be eligible to vote. The ruling of the King County court reinstates to all felons who’s terms of sentences they have already satisfied except for the unsettled legal financial obligation which because of their financial incapability are unable to immediately pay their financial obligations, the right to vote.

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In other words, those who are convicted of felony in either federal or state court lost their right to vote but those who are convicted of a misdemeanor or being convicted in juvenile court do not lose their right to vote. In the introduction of Superior court of the State of Washington’s memorandum decision in the case DANIEL MADISON, BEVERLY DUBOIS, AND DANIELLE GARNER v CHRISTINE O. GREGOIRE, and SAM REED (defendants) the court stated that Article 3 of the Washington State Constitution states that the right to vote does not “extend to those convicted of infamous crimes unless restored to their civil rights” (Superior Court of States of Washington King county).  The dependants filed a complaint for declaratory relief in court against disenfranchisement scheme of the Washington State arguing that it violates the equal protection clause of the constitution of the United States. The issues that were argued are the as follows: whether the privileges and immunities clause of the Washington Constitution was violated by the Washington’s felon disenfranchisement case; whether the felon disenfranchisement scheme violates the equal protection clause of the constitution of the United States; and so forth.Article 3 of the Washington’s Constitution states “all persons convicted of infamous crimes are disqualified of their right to vote” (Madison v. State, No 78598-8), infamous crimes have been defined by Washington legislature as “any offense punishable by death or confinement in correctional facility.” RCW 29A.

04.079 in the above mention case plaintiffs cited the constitutional provision that voting is inherent right of an individual in a democratic society but the washing State maintained its ruling that a person convicted of felony loses his or her right to vote except when it is restored. The Supreme Court of the United States emphasized that it is fundamental for all citizens the right to vote, citing court ruling in Reynolds v. Sims, 377, U.S. 533,561-62, 84 S. Ct.1362, 12L.

Ed.2d 506 (1964) In this case, Washington State action to disenfranchise felons of their right to vote was upheld by the higher court on ground that the state could grant to some persons convicted of felony the right to vote while denying it to others in the interest of the state.In Alexander Kirshner’s article The International Status of the right to Vote he noted that international treaties and declarations adopted by the United Nations and by regional treaty organizations recognized the obligations of states to protect the right to vote of their citizens. Article 21 of the United Nations General Assembly provides the right of people to participate in government and enjoy universal suffrage.

Kirshner also cited article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which was ratified by a great number of signatories. The article states that:Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions; (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.Going back to the question, I would agree to the Washington State ruling that any person convicted of felony forfeited his or her right to vote so long as he or she has not completed the sentence imposed on that person. While it is true that it is a constitutional right of every citizen in a democratic country the right to vote and this right is internationally recognized and guaranteed, yet it is also the right of the state to impose punishment to all criminal acts and as part of the consequence disenfranchised him or her, and this in the interest of the State. I also agree that upon completing the sentence and the entire necessary legal financial obligation the person who committed felony be given back all this rights and without prejudice.

In other words, while a person is in jail for a crime of felony, the right to vote should be denied to that person. The case cited above in a critical analysis does really constitute a heinous crime. The lower court verdict of the case was in favor of the plaintiff but upon a review of the superior it reversed the decision of the court upholding the Washington’s state decision to deny the plaintiff their right to vote.

Washington State clarified that felony is infamous crimes. Infamous crimes are heinous crimes punishable by death.In the case David Fischer v. Governor & a March 24, 2000, Fischer, a convicted of two counts of felony cases at the New Hampshire State Prison, requested that he be register to vote in the next election and ask to send him an absentee ballot. The city sent him a copy RSA 607 –A2 prohibiting a felon from voting from the time of his sentence until his final discharge. The plaintiff filed a petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment against the defendant He complained that the disenfranchisement statutes violate his right to vote under part 1, article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution.

The decision of the trial court was that disenfranchisement was unconstitutional and ordered election officials to allow Fischer others in similar situation to register and vote. But upon review of the case of the superior court the decision was reversed upholding the New Hampshire Constitution. The superior court cited provisions of article 11 which states that “…every inhabitant of the state, having the proper qualification,” The court cited that the plaintiff does not have anymore the proper qualification because of the crimes committed. The court also point out the 1967 legislature RSA 607-a2 which in part states that: A person sentenced for a felony, from the time of his sentence until his final discharge, may not (a) vote in an election, but if execution of sentence is suspended … he may vote during the suspension or parole.Thus, it has become a precedence that a felon does not have the right to vote during the period of imprisonment having not completed yet the necessary requirement of the law to be granted such right.

It is constitutional and legally established that it does not violate the provisions of the constitutions. In the second case, the state agued that article 11 has provided with authority the legislature to determine the qualification of the voter. The state further argued that despite of amendments on article11 over the years to remove some qualifications of voters the state emphasized that constitutional authority to identify the qualification of the voters was never altered. The plaintiff points out that the article 11 grants all inhabitants who are eighteen years old, the right to vote except only those who were convicted of offenses that the state constitution declared reason for disenfranchisement or losing the right to vote.

These offenses namely; treason, bribery, and willful violation of the federal election law of the state the plaintiff argues, has been removed during the 1974 constitutional amendment and therefore cannot be anymore applied, thus he is a qualified voter and has the right to vote via absentee voting.Upon the review of the superior it pointed out that since the term qualified voter was not defined in article 11 the legislature retained the authority to define the qualification of the voter. The higher court ruled that article 11 still included the language proper qualification for both the voting and candidacy. Therefore, the supreme court of the New Hampshire upheld that the legislature had the constitutional authority on the voting rights of convicted felon in jail either to suspend or restore it provided that such suspension or restriction was reasonable.

The first case mentioned earlier was almost similar, with the higher court reversing the lower court decision to give convicted felon the right to vote based on argument that disenfranchisement violates the constitutional right of the individual citizens. However in both cases the Supreme Court of Washington State and the Supreme Court of New Hampshire upheld both states and affirm that felons does not have the tight to vote unless this right is restored by the state. A precedence in court rulings indeed.

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