Democracy’s Ghosts

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are some 5.1 million Americans who are 85 years of age or older. Not surprisingly, a great many of those in their uber-golden years report an array of difficulties that compromise their health and functioning. For example, the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics estimates that, among people age 85 and over, 32 percent experience moderate or severe memory impairment, 33 percent have trouble seeing, and 60 percent have trouble hearing. Regardless of the degree or nature of their infirmity, these senior-most seniors retain the very same rights as other Americans, including the right to vote. Thus, votes are being cast by those who in some measure lack the cognitive and/or sensory functioning to engage in this vital duty in an informed and responsible manner. This circumstance begs the question whether these individuals should be entitled to vote. In other words, should the government take action to strip these citizens of their electoral rights?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!! No one should be excluded from participating in the democratic process. Any citizen who is free and able to vote and wishes to do so should retain that right. Unfortunately, more than 5 million Americans are currently denied the right to vote, not because they are too old to cast a ballot but because at one time or another they went astray of the law. And now they are democracy’s ghosts:

Over five million people in the United States are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions – one in thirteen African American men, over 600,000 women, and half a million veterans. The numbers have been increasing since the 1970s because of an incarceration boom fueled by mandatory minimum sentences, truth in sentencing laws, and the drug war.

In addition to those who have been disfranchised, there are many people out there who don’t vote because they’re not sure whether they can or not. The situation changes from state to state. There are eleven states where some felony convictions can lead to permanent disfranchisement. In one such state, over 1 million people can’t vote because of felony convictions. Five states restore voting rights after release from prison and completion of parole. Nineteen states restore voting rights after completion of prison, parole and probation. In 12 states, voting rights are restored immediately after release from prison….

As Americans, we hold up our ideals for democracy as a model for the rest of the world. Yet the United States is one of the few western democratic nations that excludes such large numbers of people from the democratic process for so long. [link]

The above quote comes from a website sponsored by the ACLU that seeks to bring attention to the disfranchisement of past felons and to promote a film, entitled “Democracy’s Ghosts,” on the topic. A trailer for the film can be viewed through this link. It is well-worth watching. And it would be well-worth the while of state and federal officials to cease excluding and further marginalizing those who have paid their debt to society and wish only to get on with their lives and have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens. Really, what is to be gained by denying anyone the fruits of democracy? Haven’t such policies gotten old?