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Should felons be forced to pay restitution before voting?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JANUARY 24, 2011 7:10 AM

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YES

If you do the crime, pay the time — voting rights and privileges included.

I see no harm in supporting Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to force felons to fulfill certain conditions before being allowed to vote. Offenders would need to complete their financial obligations, such as court costs and other related fines, to regain the right to vote.

Those against this proposal need to see that it is not permanently taking away felons’ voting rights.

Those who have served time behind bars will eventually be able to regain their rights, in accordance with their completion of restitution.

There is nothing wrong with this.

In fact, (while this is a long shot) I hope that those who are adamant voters would see this as motivation and encouragement to pay their dues.

And while I am hardly authoritarian, those who have knowingly disobeyed the law rightfully lose some of their privileges; voting should be no different.

If people break the law once, who’s to say they won’t do so repeatedly and do so soon after being freed from prison? This decision ensures they have had time and some resolution before regaining their rights.

Furthermore, I think this largely lies on the individual case.

Those who see this executive order as an act of discrimination need to look at the big picture. Felons are exceptions to the rule. The right to vote is not the first privilege that is taken from them after committing a serious crime, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Those who have rightfully served their time, come to a full absolution, and paid the time can easily reclaim their rights at a later date; people who exhibit antisocial behavior should not receive such social privileges as voting.

— Taylor Casey

NO

All criminals are not, as the saying goes, created equal.

In theory, it makes sense to deny felons’ voting rights if they have not paid their debt to society (a nebulous concept, but we’ll go with it for now). The extremely antisocial, the thought goes, should not determine our nation’s future.

But as sensible as Gov. Terry Branstad’s abrogation of Gov. Tom Vilsack’s executive order may seem, in practice it would amount to disenfranchising voters because of their socioeconomic status:

Only ex-convicts with the monetary resources to pay off their court costs and fines can regain the ability to vote.

Branstad seems to believe that this will serve as an incentive to pay back financial obligations, but rights, and particularly the right to participate in our democracy, should not be used as carrots to encourage good behavior — particularly when that behavior is more easily accessible depending on one’s socioeconomic class.

White-collar criminals, who serve shorter sentences in cushier prisons, have nothing to fear from Branstad’s executive order; it only affects those who are already disenfranchised by society.

Which brings another issue to light: This policy requires an idealized notion of our criminal-justice system, which is often senselessly brutal and serves no correctional function. The epidemic of rape and violence in the prison system and the economic exploitation of prisoners belie the notion of prison as a place where people learn to become productive members of society; further denying the rights of ex-convicts is hardly an appropriate step.

Our criminal-justice system incarcerates people of color for longer than white people and at disproportionate rates. The addition of economic requirements to regain democratic rights introduces a level of socioeconomic discrimination as well. The NAACP is right to decry this order, and Branstad should take notice: It is by no means judicious.

— Shay O’Reilly


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