Former Prisoners’ Rights to Vote: How will it Implicate Democracy?

US election 2016
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Former prisoners’ rights to vote is a democratic issue?

The issue of whether or not former prisoners take part in the democratic process has been a bone of contention in the US and many other democratic countries. In most US states, former prisoners do not have rights to vote. This restriction waives the voting rights of millions of Americans on various ethical grounds. The 2016 presidential election also witnessed a grueling debate on former prisoners’ right to vote. Former prisoners should not have the right to vote because detained and punished individuals are anti-social elements in several respects. And, evidence suggests that the existing correctional system is not adequate to transform the prisoners into responsible, law-abiding citizens.  

Why former prisoners should not have the right to vote?

The primary reason is that prisoners are irresponsible citizens who have forgotten their key responsibilities. According to Bridgeman and Lind, a person engaging in crime ignores his primary duties towards his family and society. In other words, criminals breach the laws of society merely for attaining their vested interests. Such an irresponsible person should not enjoy the right to vote because he does not have a healthy mind to distinguish between good and evil. An election is an integral element of the democratic process that determines the future of a country.

former prisoners are not likely to take decisions in the best interests of the society since they do not hold social values

Trustworthiness and responsibility are the two essential qualities of people who vote in an election. It is on this hypothesis that children and non-citizens are not given the right to vote. The Federal Election Commission and other authorities expect people to elect candidates who can form a competitive government. Therefore, while conducting a vital democratic process like the election, the authorities should make sure that the event takes place transparently. Likely, former prisoners will not take decisions in the best interests of the society since they do not hold social values.

A former prisoner means a former outlaw

If former prisoners have the right to vote, it will adversely affect the community in several respects. A former prisoner means a person who has violated the law of the country and served a particular period of imprisonment. By breaking the law of the land, one has already proven that one does not adhere to the nation’s law and order system. There is no point in allowing such a person to take part in a crucial democratic process like an election.

However, voting right is not a human right but a civil right. A person who committed a crime has violated another person’s freedom. A murderer violates the victim’s right to live, and a robber violates the victim’s right to earn. A person who does not value the rights of others should not be a part of the country’s democratic process.

Why arguments for former prisoners’ rights to vote flaw

A key argument in favor of former prisoners is that being prisoners for time, they have already received punishment for their misdemeanor. Though this argument seems logical, a detailed study of former prisoners will change one’s perception. Recidivism is an alarming law-and-order problem in the United States. According to a 2011 Pew Center report, the average recidivism rate for released prisoners is 43% in the United States. (Pew Center, 2011). With this considerably high recidivism rate in the country, one cannot tell that former prisoners are no longer criminals.

A person who is not valuable to society in any regard does not deserve to be a part of a vital democratic practice like the election

In other words, the punishment has not improved their behavior, and consequently, they are likely to vote for corrupt leaders who, in turn, would entertain the criminals’ gains. So, this should also be a reason for denying the former prisoners’ right to vote. As per the norms of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), an offense against citizens and the society will result in civil death. It means the offender is no more an asset of society.

A person who is not valuable to society in any regard does not deserve to be a part of a vital democratic practice like the election. Many studies suggest that the voting percentage is notably low among criminals before and after their incarceration. It implies that they do not value the law and order system of the country and not interested in engaging in the country’s governing process. They also do not like to be part of the social network in which they live.

Denying former prisoners’ rights to vote is a lesson for others

In this context, it is not sensible to permit former prisoners to take part in the election. Another important point is that voting is a complex law-making process of a country, and an outlaw should not be a part of making laws for others. Also, denying the voting right to former prisoners is a lesson for people who respect democratic values. When this denial is a punishment, society would take a lesson from this act and abstain from engaging in crimes. And, it seems to be the most competitive advantage of not allowing ex-prisoners to vote. Similarly, offenders have poor judgment and decision-making abilities. People with good judgment abilities will abstain from evil things, and they will never depend on illegal practices to accomplish their goals.

Persons who engage in crime and serve imprisonment fail to perform their duties towards family members. Besides, the whole family may feel a sense of humiliation because of that person’s poor choice

Former prisoners have a failure history

Furthermore, every individual assumes some roles like husband/wife, father/mother, or son/daughter and has a responsibility towards their family. Persons who engage in crime and serve imprisonment fail to perform their duties towards family members. Besides, the whole family may feel a sense of humiliation because of that person’s poor choice. It is senseless to expect that a person who has failed to meet his primary responsibilities towards family would make sound decisions on behalf of society. Undoubtedly, criminals are persons of unsound mind. Hence, as in the case of people with mental disorders, former prisoners also must have the right to vote.

As discussed already, the election is an integral part of the democratic process in the US to form the federal government for a term of five years. Hence, one can say that the process of election will determine the strategic direction for the country for the following five years. If a population of 4 million former prisons gets the right to vote, they can significantly influence the election result. Therefore, it will be suicidal to involve former prisoners in the election process, expecting that they would vote for the right candidate in the best interests of the society.

Why denying former prisoners’ rights to vote is ethically right

Denying the right to vote to former prisoners is not ethically wrong because the primary intention of this decision is to promote elections in the best interests of the society. Likewise, former prisoners’ voting decision may involve some factors that are detrimental to the democratic flow of society. People caught and punished by the law are likely to develop a sense of revenge toward the existing political party in power. Even though the constitutional provisions of the state punished them, they will not have a tranquil mind to comprehend the situation sensibly. A former prisoner who hates a political party or political leaders will never vote for them regardless of what they have done for the country during their previous tenure of power. Such a retaliatory attitude will turn out to be a vote for the other competing party.

Former prisoners tend to be irrational

In this context, the voter supports the opposing political party without having even a look at their election manifesto. The current American President Donald Trump is taking strong actions against the global threat of terrorism. Suppose a detained-terrorist gets sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, he is likely to develop a sense of revenge toward the President. And, for the same reason, he will no longer support the Republican Party. If this person can vote after his imprisonment period, he will tend to vote the Democratic Party to revenge the Republican Party. 

Here, the person gives little importance to the quality of Democrat candidates as his only aim is to avenge his ten-year term of imprisonment. Undoubtedly, this person’s vote goes against the values of democracy. If the votes of ex-inmates like him cause to change the election results in favor of a specific candidate or political party, the real scope of democracy is doubtful. Unscrupulous and biased choices of former inmates in an election may lead to the failure of potential candidates. This situation will further result in the formation of a government comprised of incompetent and corrupt leaders. Doubtlessly, it will increase the crime and corruption rate of the country further. Besides, an incompetent government may impede the overall development of the country and mar the expectations of people.   


In summary, prisoners have a poor quality of judgment, and hence, they cannot make sound decisions. The election is a critical democratic process that selects the country’s government for a term of five years. If prisoners can vote, they are less likely to employ their voting right sensibly, and the situation may influence election results negatively. Also, a criminal is one who violates the law and order system of a country. And hence, such a person should not vote or involve in the lawmaking process of the state directly or indirectly.                 

Works Cited

Bridgeman, Jo. and Lind, Craig. Responsibility, Law and the Family. Routledge, 2016. Print. Clegg, Rogger. “There Are Good Reasons for Felons to lose the right to vote”. The Heritage Foundation. April 10, 2018. https://www.heritage.org/election-integrity/commentary/there-are-good-reasons-felons-lose-the-right-vote

National Conference of State Legislatures. “Policies for the Jurisdiction of the Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety Committee”. http://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/task-forces/policies-law-and-criminal-justice.aspx

Pew Center. “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons”. April 11, 2011. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/0001/01/01/state-of-recidivism

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