With the November elections this year, many turned out to execute their right to vote - a privilege protected by the constitution. Yet with this turnout, a resounding detail that was often overlooked was the lack of who were not present to turn in their ballots. One of the populations in the nation out of a series of others with varying circumstances that are identified as having trouble with voting accessibility in the United States would be those involved in the incarceration system. According to statistics found through the Marshall Project, in the states they examined, 1 in 4 eligible voters were formerly imprisoned compared to there being around every 3 in 4 eligible voters in the general public within each state (Lewis and Calderon, 2021). The disproportionate values displayed within this statistic shows that there is a difference between turnout for registration between both the general public and the incarcerated population, but when asking the question of why this is occurring in the first place is where we dive into the deep rooted internal issues paired with mass incarceration and its use as a public service resource.
Around 4.6 Americans are reportedly barred from voting due to a felony (Uggen et. al, 2022). While the 15th amendment states that the right to a U.S citizens voting privilege should be protected by race based discrimination, nowhere in the amendments is there an insurance that those who are perviously convicted will have accessibility to vote- whether that be during their sentences or after said sentences. With this disparity in mind, the question on whether reliance on our democratic systems of public elections is raised as so many individuals representing a majority of those worthy of being heard, are having their voices completely silenced. Even when individuals are not being outright told ‘they can't vote’ because of a felony, there is still the issue of whether or not carceral involved individuals will have the necessities required to turn in a ballot.
For many people after they are seen as a felon, they are disenfranchised from the ability to vote. Yet even for those who are eligible, other circumstantial barriers make themselves present as individuals try to adjust back into civil society. This includes but is not limited to:
Not being released around the time they are needing to register for an election, lacking ID’s needed in order for voter verification process due to it being confiscated during arrests, and having limited access to both the internet (for online voting) or of personal information which had been confiscated and not remembered by younger individuals involved with the juvenile system. Another big overarching barrier which blocks individuals from voting after previously incarcerated is the confusion surrounding their rights to vote and the registration process. In research noted by the Marshall Project, “turnout is greater in states that have actively informed formerly incarcerated people about their rights” (Lewis and Calderon, 2021). Something as ‘simple’ as acknowledging that formerly imprisoned people have the right to vote is something that deters a large amount of the population away from executing their civic right yearly.
Despite this, the conversation surrounding these issues are never presented as people tend to forget about the rights of those who are formerly incarcerated. Aligned with the neglect that the incarcerated population experiences when residing within prisons, society does not tend to prioritize their rights and resources necessary once they have been released. Due to a lack of change occurring, there is after a relapse back into crime- something that is seen time and time again in the U.S. Especially when the issue of mass incarceration is disproportionately affecting POC communities, the same can be said about this inability to vote- something deemed very problematic due to this nation's history of stripping POC communities from their right to vote, or actively making it harder for individuals to vote during the Jim Crow Era. This is seen when we see data where “One in 19 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.5 times that of non-African Americans” (Uggen et. al, 2022).
As this neglect for the inability for a large population in the U.S to vote goes neglected, our democratic society which is so reliant on the voice of its populace finds itself simultaneously silencing it. This power imbalance between voter turnout finds itself problematic especially in cases surrounding prison reform laws, as those voting for said laws are often not the ones who are experiencing its effects. While the overall treatment of previously incarcerated individuals must drastically improve, one of the essentials in raising legal awareness and debate surrounding mistreatment would be the ability for those who are truly affected to be able to actually have a platform to be heard. Only then, can change for the better be initiated.
Initiative, Prison Policy. “Eligible, but Excluded: A Guide to Removing the
Barriers to Jail Voting.” Eligible, but Excluded: A Guide to Removing the Barriers to Jail Voting | Prison Policy Initiative, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/jail_voting.html.
Larson, Ryan, and Christopher Uggen. “Locked out 2022: Estimates of People
Denied Voting Rights.” The Sentencing Project, 23 Nov. 2022, https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/locked-out-2022-estimates-of-people-denied-voting-rights/.
Lewis, Nicole, and Andrew Rodriguez Calderon. “Millions of People with
Felonies Can Now Vote. Most Don't Know It.” The Marshall Project, The Marshall Project, 23 June 2021, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/06/23/millions-of-people-with-felonies-can-now-vote-most-don-t-know-it.