In 363 days, midterm elections will be held across the United States. When those elections are held, many of the black population in Florida – as well the rest of the country -will not be allowed to vote.
University of Minnesota sociologist Christopher Uggen estimated that in 2000, 28 percent of blacks could not vote because they were either serving prison terms or had felonies on their records. This issue was brought to light most recently when it was reported that Gov. Jeb Bush intends to ask Florida legislators to spend $1.8 million annually to hire 40 more employees to the Florida Parole Commission to deal with a backlog of about 7,500 applications made by ex-felons who wish to have their voting rights restored.
It would be funny how indicative the numbers surrounding this issue are if the issue itself wasn’t so fundamentally loathsome. $1.8 million is the same amount of money as was spent in 2004 by the State of Florida creating a central database of felons that determines which felons will not be allowed to vote. This $1.8 million went to Accenture, a company that has donated to the Republican Party in the past.
Glenda Hood, the Florida secretary of state, spent about $150,000 in an attempt to keep the selective list of felons out of the public domain. When the list finally released – thanks to a lawsuit brought about by the media – errors were found in the list, surprisingly enough. Thousands of Hispanics with felony convictions were not included on the list at all. The list was later scrapped due to errors such as these. Hood, ironically enough, wanted an investigation performed to find out why there were errors.
It cannot be overlooked that Wednesday – the day it was reported that Bush wanted to allocate funds to the Florida Parole Commission – was exactly 140 years and one day after the 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery, was ratified. Reticent to give blacks equality even after the abolition of slavery, many Southern states, including Florida, used such voting bans to prevent newly freed slaves from obtaining the right to vote.
Apparently that strategy is still in use, since nearly one-third of disenfranchised blacks will not be allowed to vote on Nov. 7 of next year.
When one adds in the exorbitant amount of attention paid to blacks by police – ensuring that blacks will continue to have felonies on their records – all of the secrecy and lies about the lists that prevent people from voting begins to make sense. In light of these observations, the ban against felons voting seems to have nothing to do with victim advocacy or justice. Since such bans clearly have nothing to do with punishment, there are two alternative reasons regarding why such laws remain. One reason is racism, which, as aforementioned, would not be that farfetched. The other is a politically motivated attempt by Republicans to prevent a segment of the population that has a history of voting for Democrats from exercising their inalienable civil right. Neither of these reasons are conducive to justice. Therefore, the voting ban on ex-felons should be removed.
Banning ex-felons from voting does not need to happen because Florida is unfairly punishing them twice for the same crime by removing their right to vote after they have served their sentences. Nor does it need to happen because losing the right to vote may contribute to recidivism. Though both of these are good reasons to lift the ban on ex-felons being able to vote, they are not the crux of the matter.
The real issue here is that voting is an inalienable right. It has been argued that John Locke – an English philosopher whose philosophy had a great deal to do with America’s founding – did not say that the government to which the people consented needed to be democratic and therefore did not view voting as an inalienable right. In Locke’s opinion, the government could theoretically be a monarchy. Although Locke had a great deal to do with America’s foundational theories, he did not dictate the process of justice.
There is no reason why Florida needs to marginalize a reasonable sense of human justice and equality simply because Locke was limited in his outlook. He did not realize that, in order to have a government that concedes to the will of the people, checks and balances must be in place. The most fundamental form of checks and balances that the populace participates in is voting.
If a democracy is what we wish to have in the United States, there can be no test of character in determining the right to vote. By depriving ex-felons that right with such a capricious, racist system as the one in place, we betray the ideals of America. Always, no matter what crime an individual has committed in the past, he or she is entitled to certain inalienable rights. It would behoove Bush to remember that.
Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.