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Why We Must Restore Voting Rights for the Formerly Incarcerated

Why We Must Restore Voting Rights for the Formerly Incarcerated

We are less than one week away from Election Day- a day when we will make our voices heard and show politicians what our priorities are. Yet, about 5.85 million Americans will be denied the right to vote next week because of laws that prohibit people with felony convictions from voting. This obstacle to participation in the democratic process is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system. As a result, 1 in every 13 African Americans is unable to vote, and in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than 1 in 5 black adults is disenfranchised.

Addressing felon disenfranchisement is one of many moral challenges of our time. Fortunately, it has been gaining bipartisan support along with other criminal justice issues like sentencing reform, and capital punishment. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out about unjust felon disenfranchisement laws earlier this year, and soon after, members of Congress reintroduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to 4.4 million Americans who are out of prison and living in the community.

The Reform Movement has long advocated that a strong, vibrant democracy requires the broadest possible base of voter participation, and restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions in their past is a key step toward that vision. This is, plain and simple, a civil rights issue and a Jewish issue. Jewish tradition teaches us that the selection of leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility: Hillel taught, “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4) and Rabbi Yitzchak taught that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 55a).

It is the duty of all who cherish democracy to ensure that every eligible citizen is afforded the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted. The Reform Movement has for the past century strongly supported legislation that protects the rights of all citizens to be free of discrimination in their efforts to exercise the right to vote, and guaranteeing all citizens this right is a critical part of our mission. You can urge Congress to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act and to support voting rights for all Americans. And for everyone who has the right to vote, make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 4!

Published: 10/29/2014

Categories: Social Justice