Defensible Disenfranchisement

Mary Sigler

Arizona State University - College of Law

August 15, 2012

As many commentators have noted, the practice of felon disenfranchisement — denying the right to vote to some or all of those convicted of a felony — is widespread and familiar, but, at least in the modern context, also short of defenders. Indeed, apart from a handful of vocal public officials, a case for disenfranchisement is rarely articulated at all. Instead, critics have occupied the field largely unchallenged, arguing that felon disenfranchisement is illiberal and undemocratic, counterproductive, racist, and, in the United States, unconstitutional. Against these claims, this paper outlines a form of felon disenfranchisement that is consistent with liberal-democratic values. In particular, I argue that felon disenfranchisement is best conceptualized not as a form or aspect of punishment but as a means of regulating electoral eligibility. On this view, felons render themselves liable to disenfranchisement because they have violated the civic trust that makes liberal democracy possible. Although the long history of disenfranchisement features extreme forms of exclusion and reflects a range of odious and unconvincing rationales, a more defensible version, grounded in the liberal and republican values of the Anglo-American tradition, would apply to a narrower range of offenders and include a meaningful opportunity for restoration. In this way, the temporary exclusion of serious offenders from the electorate has the potential to affirm, rather than betray, our commitment to liberal-democratic community.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: felon disenfranchisement, voting rights, civil disqualification

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: April 21, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Sigler, Mary, Defensible Disenfranchisement (August 15, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2252958 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2252958

Contact Information

Mary Sigler (Contact Author)
Arizona State University - College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 933
Downloads: 160
Download Rank: 146,823
People who downloaded this paper also downloaded:
1. Beyond the Discrimination Model on Voting
By Samuel Issacharoff