The Voting in Prisons Bill, Senate Bill 828, is designed to allow currently incarcerated Illinois residents to vote in local, state, and federal elections. There are many reasons why the Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice supports its passage.
First and foremost, voting is a right and not a privilege. And if democracy is at the heart of what makes America exceptional, the fact that we are intentionally depriving over 2.3 million US citizens (nearly 40,000 Illinoisans) their right to vote proves that we are far from being exceptional in this regard. Valuing our democracy means the unequivocal valuing of everyone’s right to vote regardless of custody status.
Second, taking away the right to vote for someone convicted of a felony has zero legitimate legal or moral purpose. Felony disenfranchisement has not been proven to deter unlawful behavior nor has it been proven to reform or rehabilitate someone directly impact by the criminal legal system. In fact, there is a study that shows that a lack of civic engagement actually undermines rehabilitation and increases recidivism. Ineffective punish is just that, ineffective and underserving of usage by any state.
Third, the plain language of Article III, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution states that voting rights “shall be restored not later than upon completion of his sentence.” Based on a typical Illinoisan, this means that the automatic restoration of voting rights must happen by the completion of the sentence and not upon the completion of the sentence. SB 828 will codify the automatic restoration of voting rights to take place upon the expiration of 14 days from the date of sentencing. This time frame clearly falls within the constitutionally proscribed period ending upon the completion of a sentence.
Finally, approximately 100,000 children in our state are currently denied an advocate at the ballot box due to their parent’s incarceration. This denial means there’s no one to vote on services vital to the success of these children including educational curriculum, school rules, where parks and playgrounds are located, bus routes, if any, and whether they will have access to stable housing, along with, clean water and clean air.
If public safety is important to you and your community, then so is the civic engagement by all Illinoisans. If the success of all the children in our state is important to you, then so is the civic engagement by all Illinoisans. All Illinoisans are born with the right to vote and all Illinoisans should retain that right. SB 828 is good for all Illinoisans.
Avalon Betts-Gaston, J.D. is the Project Manager for the Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice. The Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice is a statewide coalition of directly impacted people, service providers, stakeholders, and allies dedicated to redefining reentry, remaking justice, and reimagining public safety.
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