August 16, 2018
We’ve been wondering, if the US is a democracy, then why does it keep so many millions of people from voting? Can you imagine Ben & Jerry’s working hard every day to make sure people can’t eat any AmeriCone Dream? It just doesn’t make sense. Democracy, like ice cream, is for everyone.
Hard as it may be to believe, today in the US more than 6 million American citizens—1.4 million in Florida alone—can’t vote because they have a past felony coviction. That doesn’t sound like democracy to us.
Earning Back the Eligibility to Vote
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) is working hard to fix that. Amendment 4, on the ballot in Florida this November, will allow returning citizens to earn back their eligibility to vote after completing their full sentence. Yes, it’s the right thing to do. But it also makes our country stronger. Here’s how.
It Boosts the Economy
Restoring the ballot to returning citizens is about strengthening communities. When returning citizens earn back their rights, they also reclaim their place in society—something that benefits all of us. A recent study indicates that restoring their eligibility to vote would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Florida economy, while adding almost 4000 jobs annually.
It Reduces the Crime Rate
All over the country, people come home after completing their sentence and struggle to find a job, struggle to find housing, struggle with an overall lack of support. When Florida permanently takes away their eligibility to vote, it’s just one more way of telling them that they have no say in their own future. Desperate and unsure where to turn, some returning citizens reoffend. What would happen if we fixed the whole re-entry process? What if we told them, You matter, your hopes for the future matter? It’d have a huge impact. Research shows that restoring the eligibility to vote reduces crime, decreasing the recidivism rate by two-thirds.
It Ensures We Have a Jury of Our Peers
In Florida and many other states, if you cannot vote, then you also cannot serve on a jury. True, most of us don’t get too worked up about the idea of jury duty, but the right to a trial by jury was included in the Constitution because it was seen as a way of defending against tyranny. It gives people a say in the conduct of the judicial system, and it ensures that those on trial are tried by their peers, by regular citizens (as opposed to representatives of the government). In other words, the fewer people eligible for jury duty, the weaker our democracy.
It Contributes to the Fight for Racial Justice
Florida’s law barring returning citizens from ever voting again is rooted in racism, it’s as simple as that. It emerged from the state’s response to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution following the Civil War. Florida passed so-called “Black Codes,” laws that provided harsh punishments for petty crimes that were likely to be committed by former slaves. Lawmakers then set about ensuring that those convicted of such crimes would not be allowed to vote. Restoring the eligibility to vote for returning citizens is the right thing to do on its own merits. But undoing 150-year-old racist legislation makes it all the sweeter.
It Increases Voter Turnout
Too often it feels like many of our leaders are working to exclude some of us from the political process. Making it hard, or impossible, for returning citizens to vote is one of the ways they do it. Florida, for example, is one of four states that permanently strip the eligibility to vote from people who were once convicted of a felony. It’s no surprise that restoring voting eligibility to returning citizens leads to more people turning out to vote. And ultimately, isn’t that what democracy is all about?
We believe in second chances. We believe in a democracy that works—in Florida and all across the country. Here’s how you can help:
- Join us in spreading the word about the Second Chances Campaign.
- Donate to the cause.
- If you live in Florida, Pledge to vote YES on Amendment 4 in November!
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