The Instigator
WaximusMaximus
Pro (for)
Losing
6 Points
The Contender
lazarus_long
Con (against)
Winning
12 Points

Ex-Cons should not be denined the vote.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/26/2007 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,550 times Debate No: 1031
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (6)

 

WaximusMaximus

Pro

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." -14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

A convict has served their time for their infraction against society. How does denying an ex-con help to protect the public. What legal or moral argument can be used to defend this unconstitutional measure? None exist.
lazarus_long

Con

First, it should be readily apparent that denying a convicted felon the right to vote is NOT unconstitutional; my opponent has already (and apparently without realizing it) quoted the very text from the Constitution which shows this. Repeating that quotation - the 14th Amendment - here, with the relevant text highlighted:

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Carefully note that phrase, "without due process of law." The rights enumerated in the Constitution, and specifically in the Bill of Rights, are not and never were intended to be absolute and inviolable. The fact that we imprison people in the first place (a clear violation of the "right to liberty," if that right were to be considered "absolute"), and that such imprisonment and other punishments were clearly and explicitly anticipated by the Constitution, shows this. The States can, through the due process of law, deny various rights as punishment for infractions of the law.

But why deny voting rights to convicted criminals? First, this is clearly a part of the punishment prescribed for various crimes (in general, that class of crimes that we call felonies). You know going in that if you commit certain criminal acts, and are convicted of them, that you are going to be stripped of certain rights that otherwise would be yours as a citizen. In short, this is your choice - and if you value your right to vote, it is an additional incentive not to commit the crime in the first place.

And from society's perspective, this makes sense. We do not grant the right to participate in government, through voting, to just anyone. You must be of a certain age, and in general you must be of reasonably sound mind. But a convicted criminal has already demonstrated one major shortcoming regarding a quality that any reasonable society should expect of its voters. Simply put, in committing a crime, you are demonstrating that you are NOT willing to abide by your society's laws in the first place - should you then expect to have a hand in the making of those laws? Our system of voting rights is based on the assumption that voters will have an interest in promoting the good of the society as a whole - why should we grant voting right to those who have demonstrated the exact opposite?

It might be claimed that the permanent loss of the right to vote constitutes an unusual and extreme punishment, one which is not warranted in many cases. That's fine, and the law already provides a means through which it may be addressed. The ex-convict retains the right to petition the State, through legal channels, for their right to vote to be returned. In many states, the right to vote is automatically restored after a specified time period following completion of the convict's sentence, assuming of course that no further crime has been committed by the individual during that period. Given, then, that the franchise IS very commonly restored to ex-convicts - especially if it is important enough to them that they pursue it - what justification can there be for eliminating this part of the punishment for such demonstrably anti-social individuals?
Debate Round No. 1
WaximusMaximus

Pro

My opponent is quite correct in his analysis of due process of law. Rights and privileges of citizenship can be TEMPORARILY suspended for an infraction against the law. However, to suspend rights PERMINENTLY with the only recourse being to petition the state for reinstatement of these rights is unconstitutional.

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. NO STATE SHALL MAKE OR ENFORCE ANY LAW WHICH SHALL ABRIDGE THE PRIVLAGES OR IMMUNITEIS OF CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; NOR DENY TO ANY PERSON WITHIN ITS JURISDICTION THE EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS."

These laws do indeed deny the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. Forcing a citizen to petition the government for the restoration of a basic right after punishment has been served does abridge a privilege of citizenship.

Any person, not only citizens, enjoy equal protection of the laws in the United States. A former felon is hardly receiving the equal protection of the laws after the right to vote has been taken away.

In a legal sense my objection to legislation denying the right to vote to former convicts is the lack of specified duration of punishment. Actions such as this start down the path of life-long punishment for a lesser crime than serious felonies or capital crimes, which carry a justifiable and constitutional punishment of specific length.

The moral question I ask is can society dictate what rights a person enjoys? Only when the exercise of your rights impeded another's can society step in and punish you for that infraction. Every legal adult is in a contract with society as a whole. Abuse of another person's rights results in punishment. After this punishment has been completed what justification is there for a continuation of the punishment in the form of disenfranchisement?

By continuing the punishment of these individual through disenfranchisement we are only encouraging them to remain on the fringes of society as second-class citizens. Criminals need to be punished, in my opinion often more severely than we do now, but indefinite punishment to be lifted at the discretion of the government is not only unconstitutional but poses the risk of creating a class of subjects, not citizens.
lazarus_long

Con

In this second round, my opponent has presented the following:

1. That permanent disenfranchisement is unconstitutional,
2. The question of whether society can "dictate the rights a person enjoys," and
3. The notion that continued disenfranchisement encourages ex-convicts to "remain on the fringes of society as second-class citizens," followed again by the assertion that "indefinite punishment" of this nature is unconstitutional.

First, we should note that whether or not my opponent realizes it, the question of permanent or "indefinite" disenfranchisement is a red herring. Only three states currently have "permanent" disenfranchisement of convicted felons, and again even in those cases the ex-con retains the ability to recover the right to vote through petitioning the court, if they so choose. In all other states, the right to vote is returned to the ex-convict, typically automatically after a certain period of time has elapsed since completion of the sentence.

However, even if the disenfranchisement were permanent in all states, it would definitely not be unconstitutional. As was noted in round 1, the Fourteenth Amendment clearly recognizes the rights of the states to deny convicted criminals the right to vote, implictly in the first section and explicitly in the second. Section 2 of this amendment was, in fact, the basis for the 1974 Supreme Court ruling in the case Richardson v. Ramirez, which dealt with precisely this issue. (The full text of the ruling may be found at

http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu...

The Fourteenth Amendment is widely recognized as affirming the constitutionality of state disenfranchisement laws by legal scholars across the nation; for example, the following comments from an article by Edward B. Foley, the Director of Election Law @ Moritz, and Douglas Dumolt, Class of 2006, Moritz School of Law at the Ohio State University:

"This understanding also dovetailed with the U.S. Constitution's explicit recognition, in section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, that states are permitted to disenfranchise felons if they wish."

So it seems very clear - from opinions from the legal community, from simply reading the text of the 14th Amendment, and most importantly a Supreme Court ruling on this very question - that disenfranchisement laws ARE definitely constitutional. And note that there is no distinction in these opinions and rulings between those laws which "automatically" return the vote to the ex-convict, and those which my opponent would label as "permanent."

So we now come to the "moral" question - can society "morally" deny any individual certain rights? We should recognize first that, in any practical sense, "rights" under the law derive solely from the so-called "contract with society" that each of us, as the members of that society, implicitly agree to. It certainly makes for good political rhetoric to speak of "inherent" and "inalienable" rights, but in practice we enjoy only those rights which society as a whole has agreed to defend on behalf of the individual. If you disagree, may I suggest that you visit any of a number of the other societies on Earth where certain of the rights we enjoy here are not so well-defended, and attempt to exercise them. In what sense of the word would, say, an individual living in Stalin's Soviet Union enjoy an "inalienable" right to free speech?

So rights DO derive, in any practical sense, from the "contract with society." And here is a case where we are discussing the "rights" of individuals who have already, of their own free will, broken that contract by committing acts against other members of the society or the society as a whole. Rather than being concerned about the "morality" of denying certain rights to these individuals, should we not first discuss the morality of continuing to let them participate in the running of that society, given that they have already demonstrated their unwillingness to behave in that society's best interests? Society clearly has both the legal and the moral right - and in fact, the obligation - to disenfranchise convicted criminals, both as part of the punishment for their crimes and to protect itself from the potential consequences of permitting them to participate in the voting process. At the very least, this must be done until these individuals have demonstrated their willingness and ability to now "play by the rules" - and as was already noted, they have a path to recover their voting rights in each and every state of the union.

Since the disenfranchisement is rarely "permanent" - and when it is, it is generally through the individual's inability to demonstrate that they ARE ready to again participate as full members of society - the question of this practice pushing these people to the "fringes of society" or making them "second-class citizens" is moot. If they are remaining on the "fringes," it is by their own choice - just as it was their choice to commit the crime which resulted in their disenfranchisment in the first place.

Rights do not exist apart from responsibilities, and we are most definitely not talking about a case of the "big bad government" unfairly or unconstitutionally restricting the rights of some poor, innocent citizens. If you cannot live up to the responsibilities of citizenship, and you demonstrate this by committing criminal acts, then you shouldn't be surprised if certain of your "rights" are restricted or lost. This is in part to punish the criminal for their acts, but equally importantly it is to protect society from those who have clearly demonstrated inability or unwillingness to respect the rest of the society's members.
Debate Round No. 2
WaximusMaximus

Pro

I have indirectly pointed towards these three states which my opponent mentioned, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia that support permanent disenfranchisement.

The Supreme Court case that my opponent mentions is Richardson v. Ramirez. This is a case originating in California, which specified that convict shall have their right to vote restored by the court after the service of probation. This is hardly permanent disenfranchisement. The case dealt simply with the constitutionality of the statute at hand, one that dealt with temporary disenfranchisement.

I refute my opponent's claim that "The Fourteenth Amendment is widely recognized as affirming the constitutionality of state disenfranchisement laws by legal scholars across the nation..." Gabriel L. Chin of the University of Arizona Law School agrees that a reassement of the 2nd section of the 14th Amendment is in order and is also of dubious constitutionality due to that particular section's involvement with Reconstruction after the Civil War. The 14th Amendment deals specifically with "rebellion, and other crimes", considering rebellion can only be committed against the Federal government due to the position of sovereignty "other crimes" can be argued to be applicable to the Federal government versus the states.

As a citation:
Chin, Gabriel J., "Reconstruction, Felon Disenfranchisement and the Right to Vote: Did the Fifteenth Amendment Repeal Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment?" . Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 92, p. 259, 2004 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com... or DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.433580

I would disagree with my opponent on the concept that the individual rights derive from the contract with society. All persons have the right to exercise these rights until they interfere with the rights of others. At this point the contract is broken and the violator in question is punished on the basis of breaking this contract. Your rights cannot be protected while you infringe on the rights of others. However, after your punishment is served society is not holding up it's part of the bargain if your full rights are not restored.

My opponent also contends that permanent disenfranchisement is the solution to prevent criminal influence in our elections. First, ex -cons do not make up 51% of the population. The "potential consequences of permitting them to participate in the voting process" are going to be exactly what. In that states that do not disenfranchise ex-cons or have limited disenfranchisement I have not seen any evidence of a criminal take over of the government.

My opponent and I agree on many issues. For the record I support harsher punishment for crime. However, extending punishment beyond the sentence and probation to the point of potentially depriving a right for life does not have sufficient moral or constitutional justification in a free society. A free society must protect those rights which make it free. While free speech and freedom of religion are certainly fundamental how can the citizens of any democracy secure these rights without the right to vote? Participation in government is a fundamental guarantee of the Constitution. To abridge this right on the basis of a previous condition is not consistent with the tradition of rights we hold so dearly in this nation.

Thank you sir for this debate! You have forced me to seriously consider my position on this issue. If you would like to open debate on another topic it would be my pleasure to argue with an opponent of your skill.
lazarus_long

Con

At this point, my opponent appears to have backed away from his original argument - that ex-cons should not be denied the vote (with no further qualifications on that), to expressing concern mostly about "permanent" disenfranchisement. He notes in his most recent argument:

"For the record I support harsher punishment for crime. However, extending punishment beyond the sentence and probation to the point of potentially depriving a right for life does not have sufficient moral or constitutional justification in a free society."

and

"My opponent also contends that permanent disenfranchisement is the solution to prevent criminal influence in our elections."

First of all, I said no such thing; I have not been arguing at all for "permanent" disenfranchisement, nor stated it as a "solution to prevent criminal influence in our elections." As I have pointed out consistently throughout this debate, the notion of "permanent" disenfranchisement is a red herring, a straw man. Even my opponent acknowledges that only three states still have disenfranchisement laws without a specific period after which the voting rights are automatically restored, and even in those three states (which together represent a mere 4.9% of the population of the U.S.), the franchise can be and often IS restored upon petition to the courts. It is certainly not unreasonable that the state require an individual who has in the past been convicted of major crimes to demonstrate a willingness to "play by the rules" before returning voting rights to them.

And there's no need for "51% of the population to be ex-cons" in order for the state to have legitimate concerns about granting these people the right to vote; that is simply hyperbole on the part of my opponent. The question is whether or not they would constitute a sufficiently large voting block so as to affect the margin in a given vote, and whether or not an individual who has already demonstrated an unwillingness to act in the interests of society should be granted a role in running that society.

The constitutionality of disenfranchisement laws is not at all in serious question, the opinions of a few fringe legal scholars notwithstanding. The important factor here is the existence of a very clear-cut Supreme Court decision on this very issue, and for those who wish to know the specifics of that opinion - which DID take into careful account the intent of the writers of the 14th Amendment - a link to the full text of that decision has already been provided. Whether my opponent likes it or not, disenfranchisement HAS been determined to be constituional, and a valid part of the law of the land.

With that said, I believe there is little additional ground that needs to be covered. It has been shown that denying the vote, temporarily, to convicted criminals is constituional, is in the interests of our society, and is rarely if ever truly "permanent" - and so hardly constitutes an undue burden on the population of ex-criminals. Again, if the right to vote was that valuable to them in the first place, they should not have made the CHOICE to violate the law. People who do this ARE criminals - we are not talking about taking away the rights of innocents here - and chose to follow a criminal path knowing full well the potential consequences of that choice. We need not have too much sympathy for them if they complain about those consequences afterwards.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Tatarize 9 years ago
Tatarize
Without residency in the polling place he can't vote in their state for their election, but he should be allowed to vote in his hometown election. Current technology allows for the printing of specific ballots on site based on certain criteria. One polling site should be just as able to verify residency and submit a ballot from another district or state and send the information over to the other district having personally certified it. Just being out of state shouldn't be a reason for disenfranchisement if the technology trivially allows for verification. Secondly, we need to get people into the habit of voting as often as needed. I also think we should do away with registration prior to the election and allow same-day registration/voting. I've met more than a few 15 year olds who are well versed on the political scene enough to vote properly for their future. And with policies affecting children more and more... I think it's rather incumbent on the nation to give the youth more of a voice.

Voting isn't a right if it can be taken away, regardless what I say... I still have 1st amendment rights.
Posted by mmadderom 9 years ago
mmadderom
"I think voting should be a right."

Uh...it IS a right. It's a right of all who qualify to vote.
Posted by mmadderom 9 years ago
mmadderom
"I personally support universal enfranchisement. I think everybody should be allowed to vote without any discrediting problems offered. If a 15 year old wants to stroll into a voting booth in another state and vote for his hometown election we should have that ready and waiting for him"

You have GOT to be kidding here.

Personally I wish NOBODY would vote before age 30, but to say a 15 year old child should not only be allowed to vote, but ALSO should hold such privilege in another STATE (in a national election) is absurd.
Posted by Tatarize 9 years ago
Tatarize
I think voting should be a right. But, yeah, privilege as it stands. If you're going to try to draw an ought from an is, you're going to go down in flames. Drawing an is from an ought is a pathetic fallacy and will result in visions of heaven and utopia right around the corner with no work or falsifiability. Drawing an ought from an is however, makes you a narrow minded know-nothing defined by society today as your only sticking point as to how the world should be.

Voting should be a right. Con never bothered to even note that, looking at the current system where it currently is not a right, is a different debate all together. It currently isn't a right, why SHOULD it be one?

That's why you lost.
Posted by mmadderom 9 years ago
mmadderom
"These laws do indeed deny the privileges"

Stop. You just admitted your opponent is correct.

Voting is, in fact, a PRIVILEGE. It's NOT an inalienable right. Absolutely the Government is able to take a privilege from anyone they deem should lose such, without recourse.
Posted by Tatarize 9 years ago
Tatarize
I personally support universal enfranchisement. I think everybody should be allowed to vote without any discrediting problems offered. If a 15 year old wants to stroll into a voting booth in another state and vote for his hometown election we should have that ready and waiting for him (not preprinted mind you). If you're on death row and ask for a ballot you should get one.

However, to argue the constitutionality? Why? Clearly the courts have ruled that it is constitutional to deny suffrage to felons. That argument can't win. You could argue that it is applied subjectively and regardless of crimes minorities get more felonies. As such it's often used primarily in the south to disenfranchise minorities. In fact, the purging of the voter rolls in Florida prior to the 2000 election was massively more than enough to have allowed Gore to win the state. Though this was illegal disenfranchisement on top of the legal disenfranchisement, but it certainly shows that as it stands the system is being abused in a non-constitutional manner.

By and large, the 14th amendment allows it. This was the argument. Con wins.
Posted by Chuckles 9 years ago
Chuckles
lazarus i love that pic. and actually i love waximus's too.
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