Voting is a fundamental right—for everyone

Even those incarcerated should be allowed to participate in the democratic process

The author is advocacy and policy counsel, voting rights, for the ACLU.

Last year, the ACLU worked with many in-state groups in Florida to pass a ballot measure that amended the state constitution and restored voting rights to 1.4 million people with felony convictions. The prior law, a Jim Crow-era relic intended to disenfranchise black people, meant that even after completing probation and parole, people still weren’t restored as full members of our citizenry.

As we looked toward the 2020 presidential race to create a Rights for All platform, we wanted to push candidates to create a country where the right to vote is permanent, where no citizen is deprived of the right to vote because of a conviction, whether or not they are incarcerated.

That’s why we’re asking all presidential candidates to end unjust laws that strip citizens of their fundamental right to vote due to criminal convictions, because we all—including those who are currently incarcerated—must have a voice in how we shape our society.

Voting is a fundamental right and the cornerstone of our democracy. Denying the right to vote to an entire class of citizens undermines our democracy and makes our society less inclusive. That is why we’re advocating that the right to vote should never be taken away from citizens as punishment.

We also know that voting plays an important role in helping individuals with felony convictions return to society. Studies have shown that when individuals with a felony conviction participate in the democratic process, they have a lower rate of subsequent arrest. By denying people even the basic right to vote, we are only preventing them from having a stronger stake in their community and making it harder for them to successfully return to society.

This policy is not new. We already let those who are incarcerated vote in two states—Maine and Vermont.

As the presidential race heats up, our volunteers are fanning out across the country to ask candidates if they support this policy. We will continue to question and push candidates to be bolder to ensure our next president will protect and advance the civil liberties and civil rights guaranteed to all of us in the Constitution, especially the right to vote.