Measure to Deny Voting Rights for Prisoners Is a Step Back for Massachusetts, ACLU Warns

October 2, 2000 12:00 am

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BOSTON, MA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts spoke out today against Measure Number Two, a ballot initiative that would amend the Massachusetts Constitution to prohibit incarcerated felons from voting in elections for numerous state and federal offices.

John Roberts, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that denying prisoners the right to vote would be “a huge constitutional setback in the state often referred to as the cradle of liberty.”

“We in Massachusetts have taken great pride in the fact that our state constitution is more expansive of individual rights than its federal offspring,” Roberts said. “Now, for the first time in its history, there is a strong possibility that we will actually diminish rather than enhance rights granted by the state constitution.”

Under the Massachusetts Constitution, both convicted and incarcerated felons now have the right to vote. Inmates vote via absentee ballot.

Currently, all but three states (including Massachusetts) deny prisoners the right to vote. Those in favor of the policy argue that Massachusetts should get in step with the majority. But the ACLU said such action would be alien to a state that has always been the model for expansive rights.

“The ACLU firmly believes that it is in the state’s best interest to return inmates fully prepared to participate in community life as productive, and responsible citizens,” Roberts said. “Disenfranchising people while they are in prison works against this interest by discouraging them from participating positively in the life of the community.”

Currently, 3.9 million Americans are disqualified from voting because of an inconsistent patchwork of state laws that disenfranchise citizens who have been convicted of a felony.

Experts believe that in seven states one in four black men has permanently lost the right to vote. No other democratic nation indefinitely disenfranchises as many people because of felony convictions.

The ACLU supports federal legislation that would guarantee that citizens who have paid their debt to society and are no longer incarcerated regain the right to vote in federal elections, even if they are barred from voting in state elections. For more information, go to http://archive.aclu.org/congress/rightvote.html

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