Petty criminals see their voting rights restored

In Virginia and Maryland, former inmates are being granted the right to vote in November. In the former, 200,000 prisoners may be given the right to vote upon their release by the state as part of an initiative by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. As noted by The Washington Post, a quarter of all African-American men in Virginia are unable to vote due to previous convictions. The fear is that the newly enabled may vote Democratic in the upcoming presidential election. This is a fear held by Republicans, likely the very same ones who promoted and instituted the system that helped imprison the same population of African-American men who are now able to vote.

The power of a vote, especially a vote against the people who marred voters’ lives, is terrifying.

It should not be a surprise that the only ones who worry about these new voters are the ones who stand to lose all. This is a natural consequence to bad behavior, a much more realistic and deserving one than being placed in one of the worst prison systems in the world. Legalizing and enabling a system that abuses behind bars and begs for recidivism is not a recipe for a successful society.

When McAuliffe announced that ex-cons would be full citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he propelled a discussion on how we treat those who paid their debt to society—a debt that comes with tortuous interest rates—further into a progressive spotlight.

Naturally, there are accusations that McAuliffe is using the sweeping reform as an act of pedantry, hoping to get support for Hillary Clinton come Nov. 8. This could very well be a tactic to help his party, but the sheer condescension in this notion permeates like a fine mist. Of course he wants to help those mistreated by a broken system; he wants their votes. After all, if the other side did the same, the votes would go to them. Yes, it truly is a masterful act of political meandering to support the person who fixes your life.

If the Republican Party wanted to move beyond petty accusations, perhaps its members should be on the forefront of prison reform. When private prisons enter the conversation of prison reform, when “black-on-black” crime becomes a regular topic of discussion in the examination of crime rates in black communities, when the war on drugs is given more funding and support, then Republicans may continue their ridiculous charade of caring for communities so heavily disenfranchised for generations in the United States. When their vitriol burns heal, then they can start taking the accusations themselves without having to fling some back.

For now, let us celebrate this progress, however incremental it may be. The assumption in this nation is that prison time is a debt to society. The fact that we often lure people into a limbo of poverty and prison shows that we are still not prepared to accept convicts as human beings with fault and error. This does not even take into consideration the massive amount of people imprisoned for low-level drug crimes, a debt that should not have been incurred in the first place.

To the fully restored citizens of Maryland and Virginia, congratulations. Vote free, vote powerfully.