Voting should be a federal right for reformed felons

When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, the general populous is given the opportunity to make the decisions that will affect them for years to come. One key group, however, is consistently left out of the loop when it comes to voting, and it may just be the group most affected by the choices that we all make each November.

In the 2016 election cycle, an estimated 6.1 million people, or 2.5 percent of voting-age citizens, were barred from voting due to a felony conviction, according to The Sentencing Project. Of these 6.1 million people, nearly 3.1 million had already completed not only their sentence, but also any post-sentence rehabilitation, such as parole and probation.

Two states, Vermont and Maine, never take the right to vote from felons, allowing them to cast ballots even while in prison. Another 18 states allow felons to vote after they complete parole. On the other end of the spectrum, 10 states ban voting for those who were convicted of certain crimes. Of these states, three (Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky) never lift the voting restrictions of felons, barring a pardon.

Kansas falls in the largest group — allowing for the restoration of voter rights upon the completion of the sentence (jail/prison time, parole, and probation), along with 19 other states. This seems like the logical cutoff point — allowing the prison system to go through all possible steps in order to reform former felons.

The lack of rights given back to convicts points to one of two possible explanations. Either the prison system in the United States is unable or unwilling to properly reform convicts, or the people of our society are unwilling to accept them as reformed. Either of these explanations point to major flaws within the legal system that must be addressed.

The states that bar felons from voting after they serve their sentence are denying them the most important right granted to us by our forefathers. A federal law could take out the guesswork and ensure that this subset of Americans’ rights are not infringed upon based on the transgressions of their past.

Such fundamental voter rights issues should not be left up to individual states to decide. It will take federal legislation to fix this problem.

Cast your ballots knowing that you could be granting someone else the right to do so in the future.