OPINION | Voting rights for the incarcerated: It’s election year again and nobody cares


There are voter’s rights advocacy groups in Minnesota and around the country working hard to further restore felons’ rights to vote, but less of a push to reinstate those presently incarcerated for felony convictions, and even misdemeanor convictions in eight states. There are some that believe rights should only be restored after release. This supposes it is harder to advocate for us while we are still in a cell, than when the cell is opened.

If prisoners were allowed to vote it wouldn’t undermine anything or throw society into chaos. It might even make America, which houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners (more than any country in the world), a little more in line with the values it framed for itself in its creation.

Twenty-one of the world’s industrialized nations allow their incarcerated to vote. Another 14 only restrict certain kinds of felons from voting while in prison. In fact, in the United States, Maine and Vermont already allow their incarcerated to vote by absentee ballot, and neither state has exploded or broken into chaos. The same could be done here.

This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. Check out the links below for other recent Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder stories:

Of course if we were allowed to vote there would be the fear candidates would pander to us like they pander to other parts of the voting population. This wouldn’t be a fear if the state and federal criminal justice system truly believed they have done right by its captives. After all, politicians have pandered to law enforcement and corrections’ unions for so long, just like they’ve pandered to teachers’ unions, and the gun lobbyist, or to oil and defense companies.

In a world where we can point a finger and redirect all the ugly in our own lives onto someone else, the nations’ incarcerated have been an easy target. Typically, in the United States only 50-55 percent of the voting-age population actually votes. If we wipe away the exaggerated fear that plagues the issue, what we have isn’t even a small dent in our country’s electorate.

Most incarcerated men and women will get out. According to OAP (Organizing Apprenticeship Project), an organization that works t o advance social justice in Minnesota, individuals who are restored their vote are less likely to reoffend. Their inclusion in society is inevitable. The right to vote would be part of their reinvestment in society, making them active participants, rather than holding a lasting place on the fringes. These are circumstances for which many fall back into the powerless roles that promote recidivism.

At some point in the future, the conversation will have to be had regarding what it really means to be a citizen in our society. It will have to be recognized how incarceration and supervised release serves to take power and stratify certain segments of the population, while continuing to empower other segments.

The use of language has long been used by those in power to frame law and slant opinion. There is nothing that makes those of us in prison any more or less capable of deciding who should hold public office. I am suggesting it begins with the vote. When it happens, I’ll be ready. If I need voter identification, I already have an ID card, with a number that will never go away.

Crime and relative morality are social norms determined by time and circumstance in particular periods of history. The criminal justice system has over-criminalized our communities and silenced our voices. It has become normal to incarcerate at astounding rates. If enough time goes by nobody will remember when it wasn’t so normal. Like what Michelle Alexander says in The New Jim Crow, these are more than criminal justice issues now; they are civil rights issues.

Minnesotans have long believed we are kind, compassionate people that believe in equal rights — except for the people we don’t like. It is a state that still sentences juveniles to life sentences without the possibility for parole.

Does it matter? It does. There are plenty of people I don’t like, but I don’t think their right to vote should be taken from them.

This is the conclusion of a three-part commentary.

Ezekiel Caligiuri is a writer currently incarcerated at the correctional facility in Lino Lakes. He is co-editor for the Lino Ledger, the monthly newsletter of the incarcerated population.