Oct 4, 2008

collateral damage: disenfranchising felons is extraneous punishment

Affirming the Nov/Dec LD resolution means showing why, in a democratic society, felons should retain the right to vote. In "Lock Them up and Throw away the Vote," found in the winter 2005 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law, Robin Nunn creates a compelling argument to that effect.

Nunn gives several reasons.

1. International law has established the centrality and sanctity of the right to vote.
a. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2, states,
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
If "felon" is a "status," we have problems. Furthermore, felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect minority groups (and, in many cases, were specifically intended to have this impact).
b. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25, states,
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
There are reasonable restrictions allowed, it must be noted; but Nunn will argue that disenfranchising felons is unreasonable.

2. International courts have a dim view of disenfranchisement.
Some cases worth examining:
a. August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (South Africa)
b. Sauvé v Canada (Canada)
c. Hirst v United Kingdom (European Court of Human Rights)
All of these ruled in favor of a prisoner's right to vote; all contain strong rhetoric about the essential, instructive, and dignifying aspects of voting, even for felons.

3. Many countries allow felon suffrage.
In Germany, the law obliges prison authorities to encourage prisoners to assert their voting rights. A few countries restrict the vote for a short period after conclusion of the prison term. For example, in Finland and New Zealand, persons convicted of buying or selling votes or of corrupt practices would have their vote restricted after serving their sentence. In South Africa, prisoners helped elect one of their own: Nelson Mandela. In Israel, an incarcerated felon led the Shas Party in its victory in gaining seats in the Israeli parliament. According to research by Penal Reform International, prisoners generally maintain their right to vote in countries such as Japan, Norway, Peru, Poland, Kenya, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Romania, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway, and Germany.
4. Ultimately, felon disenfranchisement is worthless, since it is imposed automatically, above and beyond the retributive purpose of criminal punishment. The process ensures the "invisible" nature of disenfranchisement:
Since statutory law determines whether felon offenders retain their right to vote, criminal disenfranchisement is not imposed by order of a judge as part of a criminal sentence. It is a collateral consequence of conviction that occurs automatically and administratively.
For an affirmative running a case based on a value of justice, with a criterion of retribution (in the context of a resolution advocating felons' rights, this may be a good idea), disenfranchisement is purely gratuitous. Other nations and international bodies realize this; with research, careful reasoning, and persuasive delivery, so will your LD judge.

1 comment:

Sexy Beast said...

Jim, for negative literature, you should check out this website: www.city-journal.org/html/15_2_felons.html

It's appears to be very conservative, but it does make some decent points.