I served 7 years of a 12-year prison term for burning down my house to get money to escape foreclosure during the economic collapse of 2008-09. It was dangerously stupid. But I was heavily addicted to cocaine and living in a very different reality of desperation.
That was 12 years ago and at this very moment – while most Americans right now and all around us, are active and vocal about voting – I can’t vote. In fact, I can’t vote until I’m 80 years old – another 20 years from now. Not because a judge sentenced me to 12 years plus a surrender of my 15th Amendment rights. There is no such sentence – anywhere. But because a hand full of men who can never face me with logic, still enjoy unreasonable power over my future. They’ve stollen away my right to vote, adding extra conditions and prohibitions to my sentence that the judge did not impose. Just because they can and because too many Americans remain too silent about too many outdated policies that make no sense at all!
I live in Georgia. On the issue of legalized voter disenfranchisement, it is not a southern state. It is not a former slave-holding state. It is not a Republican or Democratic-leaning state. It is not a state of economic prosperity with Atlanta as its capitol city. It is not a penal state charged with eradicating acts of tyranny, subversion or treason. It is not at the bottom nor the top of any list of states about anything. It is just another state of 48 states that steals away the right of voting from Americans who have been convicted of criminal acts.
These 48 states don’t all have the same rules about who can vote and who cannot vote. The you-can’t-vote-quilt of policies and conditions has more variations than the number of stars on our flag. Applied in any way, degree or context, these absurd rules of denying the right to vote simply because we capriciously can, continue to have stamina and standing in the greatest democracy in the world.
Maine and Vermont have not been over-run with crime at the hands of ex-felons who continued to vote. No one political party is advantaged in Maine nor Vermont by the specific voting patterns of formerly incarcerated Americans. Studies have long demonstrated that performing the civic responsibility of voting is fundamental to rehabilitation, re-entry, restoration and model citizenship.
So, as we rightfully amplify Liberty’s call to vote in special times such as these, be smarter than the ridiculous rhetoric usually thrown at you. Be smart enough not to fall off into conversations about spending money, time and other resources to make sure some “other” Americans can’t and don’t vote. Being smart in this elementary context does not require a license to practice law or a political science degree. Being smart in this elementary context is easy: Go vote – vigorously and freely. And tell a politician – any politician – to leave MY right to vote alone.
Truth Graf is an activist, counselor and principle member of the NIA