Friday, January 8, 2010

To Vote or Not To Vote - That is the Question

The infamous 9th Circuit Strikes Again!

In the midst of the great debate between those states that restore an ex-con's right to vote and those states that still refuse to do so, a new glitch has been thrown into the matrix: convicts currently serving time have the right to vote.

This past Tuesday, January 5, an important decision was handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in the case of Farrakhan v. Gregoire that, despite its very controversial nature, has largely flown under the radar of most cable news networks which are far too busy entertaining the usual political punditry blame game of [insert issue here] to pay attention.

Very quickly, the case was brought by minorities in the state of Washington who argued that the Washington criminal justice system is racially biased against minorities (Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans make up 12% of the state's population but account for 36% of the state's prison inmates), and when you couple that with the fact that you lose the right to vote as a felon, the end result is that minorities are losing their right to vote at a disproportionate rate when compared to whites in the same state. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

There's just one small problem with this argument though: it creates an absurd result. Consider the following - in general, when you put an issue before a court, it only has two options, agree or disagree. If it disagrees with your complaint, then nothing happens. You simply lose and go home empty handed. On the other hand, if the court agrees with your complaint then it has to solve your problem. In this case, the issue is whether voting rights are being violated on racial grounds by Washington's felony disenfranchisement law. The answer is yes, however, in order to solve the problem here, the court has to remove the felony voting law from the books. That means that EVERY prison inmate (including white prisoners) now has the right to vote in Washington. Surely, that wasn't the intent of Mr. Farrakhan when he brought this lawsuit.

But this does bring us to the heart of the matter - should prisoners be allowed to vote? Currently, only two states in the whole country say yes - Maine and Vermont. The other 48 are of the philosophy that if you decide to commit a crime against society then you forfeit your right to have any say-so in society's political process.

Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe that if you are DONE with your time, then your right to vote should automatically be reinstated without any hassle or paperwork whatsoever, the same way your freedom is instantly restored the day you walk outside of the penitentiary. And furthermore, the Baldus Study leaves no room for doubt regarding the blatant racial bias inherent in America's criminal justice system.

But voting while still serving time? I just can't get there.

- special note: the State of Washington plans to appeal the 9th Circuit's decision so look for this to go to the Supreme Court sometime soon.
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