The Disenfranchisement of Felons
Posted: 15 Dec 2012
Date Written: December 14, 2012
After discussing the interests that ground the right to democratic political participation, arguments for the disenfranchisement of those who commit serious criminal offenses are examined. The arguments are divided into two groups. The first group consists of arguments that are relatively independent of the justifying aims of punishment. It is conceded that two of these arguments establish that some, though by no means all, serious offenders should lose the vote for a period of time that does not necessarily overlap with the duration of the other sanctions visited upon them. These arguments also imply that the state is justified in attempting to exclude the offenders in question from all forms of political participation, a position that arguably runs afoul of moral limits on punishment. The second group of arguments makes explicit reference to the justifying aims of punishment. None supports the blanket disenfranchisement of felons, though some may justify it in relation to some serious offenders for certain periods of time. All of the arguments supporting the disenfranchisement of serious offenders are most persuasive on the assumption that they live in reasonably just societies that are genuinely democratic. If that assumption is false or questionable, then the force of such arguments may be weakened considerably.
Keywords: disenfranchisment, right to vote, legal punishment
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