Should convicted felons be allowed to vote in elections ?

The whole of last week most of us have been debating or considering one way or the other if an individual accused but never convicted of attempted rape should be allowed to sit on the highest judicial bench in the land. That decision is a really big decision and would eventually be decided by our elected representatives in the senate. I have been thinking in my own way about all these goings ons but would like to look at things from a totally different point of view. Whilst all these discussions are going on about Judge Bret Kavanaugh’s fitness for a judicial appointment to the Supreme Court there are many individuals who are currently being prosecuted for voting in the 2016 elections while on felony probation or parole.

It is difficult to understand how a person can be punished for exercising their rights as a citizen. But then in  the US not all citizens are created equal. Felony disenfranchisement is very common in many states in the US, these laws tend to disproportionately affect minorities mostly African Americans.  In 2016 the Sentencing Project reported African American disenfranchisement rates as high as 26.2% in Kentucky, 21.9% in Virginia, 21.3% in Tennessee and 21.4% in Florida. Historical data suggests that African American disenfranchisement rates have increased significantly since 1980 when the state with the highest rate was Iowa at 12.6 %. Below is a map showing the felony disenfranchisement laws by state based on a data by the Sentencing Project, 2017. 

Map Legend (2)

US Map showing Current status of felony disenfranchisement laws – data from Sentencing Project 2017

In Fort Worth, Texas Crystal Mason is currently in prison for violating the Texas law that requires that convicted felons serve their full sentence prior to restoration of their right to vote. The 43 year old mother of three who happens to also support 4 of her brothers children is currently in Jail for an offense which she reports was a mistake due to confusion. Yes as we all continue to discuss whether Judge Bret Kavanaugh who has been accused of sexual assault deserves a seat on the highest judicial court of our land a mother and grandmother who cast an illegal vote in the 2016 election based on her status as convicted felon on probation sits in Jail.

Crystal Mason

Crystal Mason in District Court 432 at Tim Curry Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, May 25, 2018

There are more of such convictions across the country  in states like North Carolina, Texas, Idaho, Kansas and other states where citizens have been arrested and charged with casting ballots illegally. While we push forward to enforce all laws state or federal we should remember that attempted rape is a criminal offense in all states and most countries. If our states are seeking out and charging illegal voters for an offense which is not considered illegal in 17 states and the District of Columbia we should appropriately be investigating allegations of attempted rape against a judge being considered for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in our land.

Our Senators and Congressmen should know that we are counting on them to make sure  lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court are not rushed, attempted rape is a serious crime and requires appropriate investigations.

By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland 

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