Let felons vote

You can probably count on one hand the number of times I have ever agreed with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – but when a man’s right, he’s right.

This week, Sen. Paul announced that he supported restoring the right of felons to vote in the Bluegrass state, something for which I have nothing but praise.

Kentucky is one of two states (the other being Virginia) that permanently disenfranchises (that is, takes away the vote) of felons who have done their time.

Approximately 5.3 million felons are disenfranchised in the U.S., according to a 2006 Time magazine article. Although Kentucky and Virginia stand out as the only states who permanently disenfranchise felons, other states disenfranchise felons for periods of time or allow felons to gain the franchise back – but 5.3 million disenfranchised is a big deal.

Last year’s presidential election, for example, was decided by less than 5 million votes.

No country on earth imprisons more of their own people than we do. That’s right – the “Land of the Free” houses 1.6 million imprisoned souls (according to the Population Reference Bureau) – more than North Korea, Iran, Syria, Russia or Cuba. About 70 percent of inmates don’t have a high school diploma, blacks and hispanics are far more likely to be convicted and sent to prison than are whites and most of our imprisoned population is serving time for nonviolent offenses, drug use chief among them.

Upon release, these folks find themselves locked into certain jobs because of their felony convictions. Make a mistake when you’re 18? Sorry pal, you’re going to have to work low-wage jobs for the rest of your life! Want to change all that? Too bad, you can’t vote to change it – and good luck getting a word in edgewise with “polite society,” which regards those who have done time as the lowest of the low in our society.

It always baffles me when people say they don’t understand why people who have been in jail or in prison have a tendency to go back. What do you expect them to do? Get out of prison and get into a well-paid, steady line of work? That might be easier if the law didn’t confine these folks to the worst of the worst jobs this country has to offer.

I worked at McDonald’s for four years and worked with my share of felons. They weren’t scary people who I thought were going to hold me up at any moment for what I had in my wallet – they were decent, hardworking people. They were my friends.

The America that I know, or at least the America that I have been told so much about, is an America of opportunity. It is an America of second chances, and we are betraying our character as a people and our identity as a nation so long as we deny the vote to anyone in this country. The laws that bind felons, that prevent them from becoming productive members of our society, that segregate them are immoral and un-American.

Devin Griggs is president of the Murray State College Democrats.

 

Column by Devin Griggs, Opinion Editor