The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
7 Points

Resolved: in a democratic society felons ought to retain the right to vote

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/14/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,350 times Debate No: 5983
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (2)




As this is to be a Values debate I ask that it be judged objectively based on who presented better arguments. Also who's criterion came out to be superior and best fulfilled the Core Value that came out superior.(sorry this is a bad explanation)

I ask only one thing and that is some experience with LD style debate(essentially how it works and the structure)

As stated by Former Supreme court justice the late Thurgood Marshall "It is doubtful...whether the state can demonstrate either a compelling or rational policy interest in denying former felons the right to vote. [Ex-offenders] have fully paid their debt to society. They are as much affected by the actions of government as any other citizen, and have as much of a right to participate in governmental decision-making. Furthermore, the denial of a right to vote to such persons is hindrance to the efforts of society to rehabilitate former felons and convert them into law-abiding and productive-- (dissent of Richardson v Ramirez) Because I agree With Justice Marshall I affirm the resolution that in a democratic society, felons ought to retain the right to vote."
My Core Value will be that Of Justice. John Rawls Believed That Justice was created in a Democratic Society when citizens are free and equal, and that society is a fair system of cooperation. Justice is the best core value for this debate because the resolution specifies a democratic society and the goal of every democratic society is justice also the reason a society is democratic is they believe it to be the most just form of government.
The Criterion Is Preservation of Democracy. Preservation of Democracy means to do what is best to preserve the democratic process and democracy itself. This means not only allowing everyone to participate in governmental decisions but listening to the voices of everyone. A democracy is beyond a simple majority rule system it means also to listen to the minorities such as felons. This is the most relevant to the resolution because again the resolution specifies democracy and for that society to exist we must work to preserve it. This ties in with my core value of justice because by allowing felons to vote we are ensuring a free, equal and cooperative society and therefore creating justice.

Democracy: the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves

Right: a Moral or legal entitlement to have something (oxford)
Ought: to indicate a desirable or expected state(oxford)

1st Contention—Democratic Perfection and Maximization of Rights
The creation of justice, by preserving the democratic society, is the pathway towards the achievement of the perfect democracy. Democratic perfection is the highest state of being for a democratic society and is created when the full possibilities and potentials of living in a democracy flow to each and every member of that society. If you take the right to vote from any segment of that citizenry you are automatically depriving everybody else of the possibility of that ideological state. As said by former Supreme court Justice Hugo Black "No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined." Therefore the right to vote must be protected in a democratic society along with all other rights. So if we take the right to vote from any member we are harming the entirety of society. Look at it like a piece of fabric, if it is whole is cannot be easily broken, you can tear at it but it will not break. But if there is the smallest of holes, there is a weakness from which the fabric can be ripped in two. By disenfranchising felons you are putting that whole in the fabric of the democratic society and weakening the entire structure. By damaging just that part you are endangering the whole. Because it substantially weakens democracy felon disenfranchisement does not create justice, therefore proving the resolution to be a Just principle.

2nd Contention—Impact on the democratic process
The United Nations released a "Standard Minimum Rule for the Treatment of Prisoners" that stated "The treatment of prisoners should emphasize not their exclusion from the community but their continuing part in it" This standard establishes that it is the best interest of society to fully rehabilitate ex-prisoners back into society because it provides for the betterment of that society
Approximately 4.7 million adults are disenfranchised or 2.0 percent of the eligible voting population. Lets look at the democratic implications of felon Disenfranchisement In 1996 the number of disenfranchised eligible voters in Florida was 647,100. In the 2000 Elections George Bush won Florida By 1725 Votes. The state of Florida has 27 Electoral votes. In that election George Bush won the presidency by 5 electoral votes. If all of these Voters were re-enfranchised and 1726 more of those voters cast ballots in favor of Al Gore Rather than George Bush the presidential election would have turned another way. So, by disenfranchising voters, Florida brought down the potential voter turnout, and by doing so restricted the democratic process by impacting not only the country but world politics. The fact that these voters were disenfranchised caused a serious lapse in democracy, and therefore did no justice. Because Disenfranchisement restricts the democratic process the resolution is a just principle.

3rdst contention—Fencing out a Demographic
It must be agreed that fencing off a certain voter demographic is a fundamentally unjust principle. By disenfranchisement this is precisely what we would be doing. Blacks comprise 13 percent of the national population, a minority, but 49 percent of those in prison. Nationally, blacks are incarcerated at 8.2 times the rate of whites. Furthermore around 70% of all felons exonerated on DNA evidence are black. This also means that statistically speaking there are a greater number of innocent blacks in prison who have not been exonerated. Not only is there evidence to suggest an unwarranted racial disparity but, certain crimes punish blacks more heavily. Take Cocaine for example, Possession of 5 grams of Crack Cocaine is a felony. However Possession of a similar amount of powdered cocaine is a misdemeanor. This makes no sense because 5 grams of powder will make more than 5 grams of crack and the active ingredient is the same. 81% of everyone convicted of felony crack possession is black while only 20% of those convicted of Powder possession. So not only are we sentencing and wrongly convicting this minority, more often we are punishing crimes that tend to be committed by black more harshly. By doing this we are fencing out a group of voter and silencing a minority, which works against the preservation of democracy therefore denying justice.

Because, as I have proven, the idea of Felon Disenfranchisement does not promote the best for society in the form of the preservation of democracy and the creation of justice, the reverse must also be true. If Felons were re-enfranchised it would strengthen the democratic process and would be the most just solution because it preserves democracy.


1. Suppose a missionary and four cannibals are stranded on an island. Does justice demand that the issue of what's for lunch be settled democratically, with a vote granted to each of the five residents of the island? Pro argues that democracy is the preeminent value of justice, that no one can be excluded from the society, and that fencing off any demographic, in this case the cannibal demographic, is clearly wrong. If these arguments are true, then the missionary is not only in the soup, he should be pleased that justice has prevailed. I argue that such is not the case.

2. I accept the definitions offered by Pro. I note, however, that the definition of a "right" does not tell us what is and what is not a right. Moreover, there are inevitable conflicts among rights which must be resolved. The U.S. Constitution grants no right to vote for president. The electors for the President are determined by state legislators "by any means." Clearly, the Constitution does not make voting a preeminent right. The Constitution defines a republic, which subordinates the right to vote upon legislation to voting for legislators. There are clauses granting equal rights based based upon race and religion, and equal voting rights based upon gender, but there is nothing that prevents voting restrictions based upon other criteria. The right to vote is not granted to those under the age of eighteen. That limitation shows that voting rights may be restricted when there is reason to doubt the potential voter's good judgment. Convicted felons are another class of citizens whose judgment is reasonably called into question. Resident aliens are excluded from voting on the grounds that their interests are not necessarily coincident with the interests of citizens. The interests of convicted felons are likely to be contrary to the interests of citizens as a whole, who want to be protected from criminals. That is stronger grounds for excluding convicted felons than the grounds for excluding resident aliens.

3. Pro cites Thurgood Marshall as evidence in supporting the proposition. Justice Marshall is a distinguished jurist who is an expert on interpreting laws. However, being highly qualified to interpret laws does not qualify one as an expert on making laws. The good justice claims that once a prison sentence is served, that felons have "fully paid their debt to society." Whether or not they have fully paid there debt is a matter of law, and ultimately of the values of society as reflected in the lawmaking processes. For example, convicted sex offenders must register with the government and are restricted from certain interactions with children. The "three strikes and you are out" laws identify career criminals and remove them from society.

The justification for both sex-offender registration and "three strikes" is that convicted felons are more likely to commit additional crimes than persons without a criminal record. It is arguable what the correct level of continuing debt to society ought to be, but the fact that convicted felons are more likely to commit crimes is unquestionable. The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that "...over two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years" Note that the two-thirds only reflects released felons who where caught within three years. It does not count those who committed crimes but were not arrested. Overall, only about 45 percent of violent crimes are solved, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics Factoring in the criminals not caught, we may reasonably suppose that the true recidivism rate is in the neighborhood of 85 or 90 percent.

The "debt to society" at the heart of this issue is not with respect to serving a sentence for a particular crime, it is in having adopted a criminal lifestyle. The convicted felon ought to have the obligation of establishing that his interests have become aligned with those of ordinary citizens and contrary to those with a criminal lifestyle. For example, that might be established after ten years without an arrest for a felony. It is not established by release from prison.

Only eight states currently prohibit convicted felons from voting for life. Two states permit felons to vote while in prison. Thirty-three states remove the franchise while convicted felons are on parole. Thus even if one accepts Thurgood Marshall's argument that voting rights should be restored after felons have "paid their debt," it is not at the heart of the issue. The issue is mainly about criminals who are in prison or on parole and have not paid their debt.

4. Pro claims that in the 2000 election in Florida, "The fact that these voters were disenfranchised caused a serious lapse in democracy, and therefore did no justice. Because Disenfranchisement restricts the democratic process the resolution is a just principle." I agree that in close elections the votes of those with an established criminal lifestyle voting for someone they feel to be in their interests could determine the outcome of an election. That is a powerful argument that justice demands that election not be determined by such people.

5. Pro claims "It must be agreed that fencing off a certain voter demographic is a fundamentally unjust principle." I do not agree. It depends upon the reason for fencing off the demographic. People under the age of 18 are fenced off on the just grounds that in general they lack the knowledge and experience to cast an informed vote. Note that this is done despite some sixteen and seventeen year olds being more informed than some citizens who are fifty or sixty years old. The fencing off is justified because the odds are so heavily against it. Similarly, not all convicted felons remains committed to the criminal lifestyle. But with about 85% recidivism, the odds are much against it. Therefore, it is reasonable and just to identify the demographic and exclude them.

Convicted felons are, I agree, an identifiable demographic. That makes them an identifiable target for politicians, who can go to prisons to seek votes by making various promises to tilt the justice system in favor of criminals. (Note that the proposal is to for convicted felons to retain the right to vote, with no criteria that they even have been released from prison.) Politicians are clever enough not to make the appeal directly, as that would alienate other voters. They would use surrogates who espouse "improving" the justice system by weakening it. Even if no targeted appeal were made, criminals would figure out for themselves which candidate was most likely to facilitate their lifestyle.

Crime victims are also an identifiable demographic. However, victims are less likely to vote based upon the single issue of weakening the justice system. Victims are citizens who worry about the health of the economy because a good economy facilitates their making a living. A criminal lifestyle, however, is only facilitated by weakening the justice system. Therefore, the fact that criminals constitute a single-issue demographic is just grounds for excluding them from voting.

6. Justice is not served by having cannibals voting democratically on the fate of missionaries. The interests of justice are best served by subordinating democracy to human rights. We should not want people whose prime interest is in pursuing a criminal lifestyle determining the outcome of close elections.
Debate Round No. 1


Metz forfeited this round.


My sincere condolences are extended to opponent, as surely only a crisis of major propositions would have prevented him from typing the word "Continued" some time within the three day response period.

Proponents for felons retaining the right to vote often suppose that withholding the right must be either punishment or retribution. Such is not the case. We imprison serial killers not only on grounds of punishment or retribution, we imprison them to prevent them from committing similar bad acts. Depriving a felon of the right to vote is unlikely to be a significant punishment to discourage criminal behavior. Even as retribution it would be trivial. However, removing the right to vote prohibits the felon from committing the bad act of voting for a candidate because the candidate is likely to weaken the justice system.

As an example, consider the famous Willie Horton case that came up during the 1988 presidential campaign. Michael Dukakis opposed George H.W.Bush. Willie Horton was a convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. However, as governor of Massachusetts Dukakis permitted Horton to be let out of prison on a furlough program that Dukakis thought would aid rehabilitation. During a furlough, Horton murdered another person. As governor, Dukakis commuted so many sentences for first-degree murder that the time actually served for life without parole was 19 years. (op. cit.)

I have no doubt that Governor Dukakis was sincere in his belief that leniency leads to rehabilitation. However, felons will certainly want leniency regardless of whether rehabilitation occurs or not. The recidivism rate proves that most often it does not occur. We may therefore suppose that allowing felons to vote would sway close elections to the side of leniency, particularly when issues other than the justice system dominate the campaign. Felons should not have the right to vote in the interests of pursuing a life of crime.

Suppose that there are no criminal justice issues evident in a campaign. We know that many convicted felons are characteristically averse to working for a living. They are therefore likely to vote for whichever candidate promises the largest amount of unqualified government benefits. This is also contrary to the interests of ordinary voters, who are likely to be willing to help the poor, but unlikely to want to support criminals.

For these reasons, the resolution should be rejected.
Debate Round No. 2


I am Sorry for my Absense I lost track of the day count(I know a bad excuse but a true one)

First of all My opponent proposed no criterion or core value and so mine are seen to stand.

First point. My opponent gives the Cannibals and the missionary example. This is irrelevant because the cannibals are not necessarily felons and second in such a situation disfranchisement wouldn't exist because there are no laws. there is also no evidence the vote would be in favor of the missionary.

2nd: the only thing that makes the citizen of a democratic government different from a despotic one is the right to vote. Furthermore this debate does not concern what is currently being done but as to what we should do. So the constitution is irrelevant.

re-build my own case

(refutation of Marshall quote) I am Not suggesting they are equal but merely they get representation. If we disenfranchisethem we are turning what was once a two way street into a one way street. They are also paying or have paid there debt and further punishment hinders the rehabilitative efforts of society.
Also the recidivism point is merely speculation without factual evidence and therefore is irrelevant.

2nd contention
The point proposed by my opponent it simply un-democratic. It is turning towards Oligarchy which is, of course, not democratic and therefore denys justice

3rd contention
My opponent is merely speculating with the recidivism rates and again therefore those statistics must be thrown out. Also if we were to include those who had not been caught we must consider all non-felons who may have commited a crime and advocate disenfranching them??? this destroys democracy not preserves it. Second the thought process used in felony and the thought process used in voting are entirely different things.

Also the fact politicians would play to felons. this is infact not true, not politician would run a capmaign in prisons for the reason my opponent stated, cost. Also felons are only 2% of the population not enough to win an election

The goal of the prison system is, ultimately, rehabilitation or deterrence from furhter crime. Felon disenfranchisement it nither and therefore overkill to the criminal justice system. again in a democratic society there is no such thing as a bad vote or else it would be moving away from democracy

While this story is unfortunate it does not prove that felons disenfranchisement is warranted. It simply says felons ought to be punished. That is what the prison system is for and disenfranchisement does not solve the given situation.

Because felons are required things of society they must be given all the rights of society and, therefore must vote. If they need government aid this is often times the fault of society for labeling them and not the fault of the felons themselves.

Therefore in intrests of preserving democracy the resolution should be affirmed


I took the core value assumed by Pro to be achieving justice. Pro claimed, "The creation of justice, by preserving the democratic society, is the pathway towards the achievement of the perfect democracy." Now Pro seems to claim that justice should be defined as whatever democracy produces, no matter how unjust.

The vote of cannibals provides a simple example of the fact that democracy does always achieve justice. Moreover, the fact that democracy does not achieve justice is reflected in the U.S. Constitution by its establishing a republic, by using a system of electors chosen by state legislators "by any means," and by having a Bill of Rights that protects individuals from unfettered democracy. Moreover, the exclusion of minors and the exclusion of non-citizens is done to foster justice at the expense of unfettered democracy. Pro made no argument that justice would be achieved by expanding democracy.

In his opening statement Pro asserted "If all of these Voters were re-enfranchised and 1726 more of those voters cast ballots in favor of Al Gore Rather than George Bush the presidential election would have turned another way." then in rebuttal he contradicts himself by asserting "Also felons are only 2% of the population not enough to win an election." Pro was correct in his first assertion, and the numbers Pro recited prove that 2% more than enough to swing an election.

Pro asserts that recidivism rates are "mere speculation." It is not speculation that convicted felons still have a substantial interest in preserving a criminal lifestyle. When about 60% are rearrested and more are not caught, that is solid proof that they maintain that interest. It would be a fine idea to exclude felons who have never been caught from voting, but the lack of a practical way of doing that does not mean we should honor the judgment of those we know to have interests in weakening the justice system.

Pro asserts that the only purposes of imprisonment are punishment and rehabilitation. I refuted that at the outset. An additional purpose is to prevent the offender from committing additional bad acts upon the public. Denying the vote to a convicted felon prevents the felon from committing the bad act of fostering criminal interests through the voting process. That can, fortunately, be prevented without imprisonment.

Note that the proposition restores the vote to felon who are in jail or on parole, yet Pro seems to insist that the issue is solely about those who have completed their sentences.

The fundamental error in the Pro position is the assumption that greater democracy always means greater justice. Clearly it does not. I therefore urge a vote against the proposition.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
True, but it also happens that debates are won or lost solely upon the beliefs of who happens to see the debate, without regard to the arguments made in the debate.
Posted by MTGandP 7 years ago
It's just not right that a debate should end in a tie, after only two votes.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Metz 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by RoyLatham 7 years ago
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