One of the fundamental building blocks of a vibrant democracy is the freedom for men and women to cast their vote and elect their leaders. On the eve of one of the most divisive and important elections of my lifetime, I can think of no better time to point out the fact that 5.6 million American citizens of voting age have been disenfranchised. They have absolutely no say in electing the men and women who will ultimately make decisions that impact every aspect of their lives.
Five point six million is a huge number that should give us all pause. The populations of Wyoming, Washington, D.C., Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska and Delaware combined do not equal 5.6 million people.
And when you begin to survey the demographics of the disenfranchised, you are faced with an undisputable fact. Most are from low-income and minority communities. A true snapshot of this disenfranchised community is enough to make even the most ardent opponent of voter re-entry rights reconsider.
Laws determining the voting rights of the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated vary from state to state. In Ohio, ex-offenders do have the right to vote. For this reason the recent billboards placed in African American and Hispanic communities in Cleveland declaring in bold letters that voter fraud is a felony are offensive. The anonymous billboards were designed to intimidate and confuse ex-offenders who may be uncertain of their voting rights.
As citizens of a democracy, our greatest right and most important responsibility is voting. Voter intimidation in any form, from any group is an offense to the men and women who throughout our nation’s history labored in sweat and blood to ensure that we all have the right to vote.
It may be adequately argued that people currently serving prison sentences should forfeit their right to vote. But men and women who have paid their debt to society and are no longer imprisoned have every right to fully re-enter society. Fully re-entering society means regaining all of the rights and responsibilities that go with citizenship. Right and responsibility number one is voting.
Morris Chestnut is an actor who can be seen in the television series Nurse Betty. His opinions and commentaries can be found on the Speak Easy Speakers blog at http://www.SpeakEasySpeakers.com.