The Nineteenth Amendment and the history of the women’s suffrage movement can offer a compelling argument against felony disenfranchisement laws. These laws leave approximately six million citizens unable to vote, often for crimes wholly unrelated to the political process. They also increasingly threaten gains in female enfranchisement.
Today’s arguments in support of felony disenfranchisement laws bear striking similarities to the arguments of anti-suffragists more than a century earlier. Both suggest that a traditionally subordinated class of citizens is inherently incapable of bearing the responsibility that the right to vote entails, and that their votes are somehow less worthy than others.
This Article examines the historical response to those arguments and suggests that they can be applied forcefully in the contemporary debate over felony disenfranchisement. Felony disenfranchisement laws are based upon the fiction that there is a distinction between good votes of most citizens and bad votes of criminals, and therefore excluding former felons’ voices from the political arena is acceptable because their interests will be sufficiently served by the good votes of others. But the voices of former felons should be heard, both because of the perspective those voices will bring to modern problems caused by growing incarceration rates, and because those voices may add important and worthy ideas to the political marketplace that would be absent if their contributions are excluded.
"Felony Disenfranchisement and the Nineteenth Amendment,"
Akron Law Review: Vol. 53:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/akronlawreview/vol53/iss2/5