Friday, May 18, 2007

Taxation Without Representation

For many ex-felons completing their sentencing and/or parole or probation still does not allow them the opportunity to rejoin their fellow citizens in the voting booth. In what many consider the last vestiges of Jim Crow, there are still some states that do not allow these people to vote. It is an effort to continue to disenfranchise the rights of some Americans to vote.

These men and women have served the terms of their sentences and completed the requirements of release, yet they are still denied the right to vote. How can this be? The proponents of these laws base them on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

“The legal authority of a state to revoke an inmate's voting rights is based upon the Fourteenth Amendment. While this amendment stipulates that, "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States", it allows for the denying of the voting rights of individuals guilty of "participation in rebellion, or other crime". Under current law, the federal government may not infringe upon a state's authority to grant or rescind voting rights to prison inmates and former felons.”[1]

So, it is up to the states to determine what voting rights a citizen may get to exercise. Having the states determine the voting rights of our citizens is a dubious proposition at best. If we had left it up to the states to repel the various voting laws on the books to disenfranchise the poor and minorities of this country they would still not be voting in some states. There are those who would use these questionable laws to suppress the votes of those they deem unworthy and to maintain the status quo.

It seems clear to me that the goal of the “founding fathers” was to prevent those that had participated in the armed overthrow of the government from voting, not the guy or gal who may have been convicted or plead guilty to a simple drug possession charge. These people are not a direct threat to this government any more than the guy who shoplifts. Because of how our courts have systematically been bias against minorities, in that minorities are more likely to have their charges upgraded to a felony, it would be logical to assume that these laws would affect minorities more negatively than others.

“The San Jose Mercury News conducted a massive study of 700,000 California legal cases over a 10-year period. The paper reported in December 1991 that a third of the white adults who were arrested, but had no prior record, were able to get felony charges against them reduced. Only a quarter of the African-Americans and Latinos with no priors were as successful in plea bargaining.”[2]

With evidence suggesting that race is indeed a factor in whether felony charges are pursued or not, it would also seem logical to conclude that preventing ex-felons from voting could be used by some states or legislatures to suppress the votes of minorities. Voting has not always been a right for minorities in this country and it took the shedding of blood to acquire it. And I say, it would be a travesty to the memory of those who laid down their lives for this right to have it eliminated through some back door loophole. Because of these laws, 13% of African-American males are being disenfranchised; to continue this is unconscionable. Despite what the Supreme Court said in Bush v. Gore: "The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." The truth of the matter is that voting defines democracy and citizenship. This was one of the main linchpins for the American Revolution; taxation without representation. To now over 200 years later to justify this treatment because someone has broken the law is according to the founders of this land; tyranny.

If we are not going to allow them to vote, then it only stands to reason that they should not be taxed without a voice. Many in the Congress are afraid to touch this issue because of the far right attacks of “soft on crime”, but this is not a criminal issue. This is a fairness issue; it is a moral issue. Do we believe in rehabilitation and paying ones debt to society or not. Do we believe in inclusion of those who have made mistakes and second chances? You should not lose your citizenship for making a mistake, if that were the case would any of us be allowed to vote?

It is time for us to make voting a constitutional right for all of our citizens. Many people already believe that it is. Let’s not allow politics and rhetoric to take the voice of our people, any of them and silence it. At the current rate of incarceration figures continue to rise, many in the minority community will be marginalized and remember, “No justice, no peace.” Our democracy is too valuable and has come too far to let the racist attitudes of the past once again derail the rights of those who are different. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone…



1 comment:

sonya said...

Excellent post. The prison industrial complex has been built on the backs of incarcerated black men. Disenfranchisement is just one of the many ways to make life more difficult for these men and increase the chances of them getting locked up again.

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