Criminal Voting Rights

In all but two states, those with criminal records on felony offenses usually have some kind of limitation on their voting rights, most applying only to those felons in prison or currently on parole but some banning all felons from voting for life. Criminal voting rights is a hotly debated topic and the fervor of these debates is just getting stronger as the years go by.

Criminal voting rights advocates argue that refusing to reinstate such voting rights after the criminal has been released from punishment amounts to taxation without representation (one of the primary reasons our forefathers rebelled against the King of England) and violates the Fifteenth Amendment’s requirement for equal treatment under the law without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The last part of that is the point advocates stress when promoting criminal voting rights. This point is indeed significant to criminal voting rights advocates for the following reason.

The Thirteenth Amendment indicates that slavery (which opponents claim is the only form of servitude) and involuntary servitude (defining the two as separate and distinct topics) are forbidden within the United States and it territories except as punishment for a crime. This wording indicates that criminal imprisonment is a form of involuntary servitude and thus the Fifteenth Amendment’s provisions apply to ex-offenders as well.

When the wording and understanding of these two Amendments are combined, say the advocates, it indicates that criminal voting rights are indeed required under the U.S. Constitution, though this argument has, to my knowledge, never been presented before any court in this manner.