My wife often reminds me to keep my Saturday Evening Posts short. So here it is: VOTE! You hopefully have already done that, or will do so soon, so I could stop there. But I do have a few more things to say about the right to vote that I will consider a post script!
I am grateful that we in Washington can vote by mail. But the news this week is already showing long lines of people trying to cast their votes in other parts of the country. As frustrating and discouraging as it must be for them to be able to vote, I have concluded the democratic right to vote is the ultimate provision of a peaceful society and thus voting becomes a sacred value worth the sacrifices needed to exercise and protect it.
Voting is our means of honoring and maintaining our capacity to engage in the nonviolent, peaceful practice of asserting our right to choose leaders who will serve the common good. It gives us the opportunity to engage in public dialogue and affect what policies and priorities we want for our communities and political life. Voting can also be identified as a privilege, a responsibility, and a duty - in addition to being, (ideally at least) a right of citizenship. The alternative to a viable voting process is protracted, vulnerable nonviolent movements or, worse, armed uprisings. Because voting is also the means of securing political and economic power, misuse will always be a temptation for some. But staving off the challenges to the electoral process must be maintained as a price for our democracy and for maintaining a nation at peace.
At this point you are likely thinking I am writing like a person of white privilege - which, of course, I am. But I am also increasingly aware that disenfranchisement and voter suppression has long been a staple of American “democracy,” especially for African Americans, from the establishment of the Constitution, through Jim Crow (poll taxes and literacy requirements), up to the present as noted regularly in the news. The thirteenth amendment gave (only) male African Americans the right to vote...unless they had committed a felony which then, strategically, meant thousands of newly freed slaves were found guilty of all sorts of trumped up crimes thus disenfranchising them. And the remnant of the felony exclusion of the thirteenth amendment continues today as the basis for a racially based disenfranchisement of those with a felony conviction in most of our nation, not just the south. (See the background information below on the history of felony disenfranchisement in the U.S.)
The Washington state constitution, for example, explicitly states that a felony conviction is a basis for disenfranchisement, a provision that excludes most people with felony convictions in our state from voting. I am currently engaged in our Washington legislature to change this law, including an amendment to the state constitution, and thus to secure voting rights for those with a felony conviction, folks who are disproportionately Black, often veterans who fought for the right to vote, and sometimes taxpayers.
Until this year it has been easy for me to assume the election process in the U.S. will be secure, fair, and honored. Because that assumption has been questioned this round, I no longer feel we can take fair elections for granted, and thus they must be continuously defended. For women, minorities, and the poor, especially, the right to vote has been hard won and therefore needs to be considered all the more precious and needing to be preserved. And all of us now need to commit that from now on we will never fail to exercise this cherished right and privilege.
None of us know what to expect during the next days before the election and following. What we do know is that this is not just about a single election cycle; it is a referendum on the viability of our vulnerable constitutional democracy. One of my prayers is that we do succeed in affirming and exercising the sacred right to vote in a successfully electoral process and have the election solidly confirmed. As a nation we must then go on to fulfill the original high ideals of equality in our nation, and the honoring of that equality needs to be the ability for all of us to vote, without suppression, thus assuring to all citizens an engagement in the peaceful protections and agency that our right to vote is intended to provide.
Felony disenfranchisement in the United States
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Felony disenfranchisement in the United States is the suspension or withdrawal of voting rights due to conviction of a criminal offense,. The actual class of crimes that results in disenfranchisement vary between jurisdictions, but most commonly classed as felonies, or may be based on a certain period of incarceration or other penalty. In some jurisdictions disfranchisement is permanent, while in others suffrage is restored after a person has served a sentence, or completed parole or probation. Felony disenfranchisement is one among the collateral consequences of criminal conviction and the loss of rights due to conviction for criminal offense. In 2016, 6.1 million individuals were disenfranchised on account of a conviction, 2.47% of voting-age citizens. As at October 2020, it was estimated that 5.1 million voting-age US citizens were disenfranchised for the 2020 presidential election on account of a felony conviction, 1 in 44 citizens.