6 Million Americans Were Barred From Voting This Election

6 Million Americans Were Barred From Voting This Election

Because they're prisoners...
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When millions of Americans cast their votes for tumultuous 2016 presidential election, six million Americans held their breath because they had no say in the matter. Those six million are felons, criminals carrying out their court-mandated prison sentences which include "civil death," the loss of voting rights. The condition of civil death has been used against criminals since ancient Greece and was brought over to America by the English colonists, but in modern times with modern ethics, such a practice raises several questions.

Namely, should felons be allowed to have a say in who becomes the president of our nation, or have they forfeited that right entirely?

Donald Trump, for one, does not believe that convicted felons should have the right to vote.

And considering that felons' votes could largely impact swing states, there is certainly room for discussion. In Florida, for instance, "more than 10 percent of the voting-age population is disenfranchised," and felons' voting rights are restored only "through a governor’s executive action or a court order. Similar rules apply in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia," according to KQED News.

Presently, only Maine and Vermont grant felons the right to vote, even when they are incarcerated, whereas 38 other states (including the District of Columbia) give felons the right to vote only after the completion of their sentence. Some other states require the full completion of the prison sentence, including parole and probation — which can continue for one's entire life.

As it so happens, the states with the most restrictive felon disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect African Americans — especially black men, with one out 13 rendered unable to vote. That's more than 7 percent nationally, as reported by the Sentencing Project. Maine and Vermont, on the other hand, (the only two states that allow felons to vote while imprisoned), are "both overwhelmingly white," notes KQED News.

Also interestingly enough, according to Edison Research for the National Election Pool's exit poll, those same "white non-Hispanic voters preferred Trump over Clinton by 21 percentage points (58 percent to 37 percent),"

The New York Times reported that a majority of the states where whites voted for Trump are "states where non-college whites outnumber college-educated whites the most: Iowa (by 30 percent), Wisconsin (by 25 percent), Ohio (by 24 percent) and Nevada (by 18 percent)." That maybe a large part of the reason why swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa succumbed to the Trump majority.

If felons were permitted to vote, would the swing states have chosen differently?

Some say yes because a disproportionate number of African Americans are jailed in several states across the U.S., particularly those in the South which also happens to have the strictest set of felon disenfranchisement laws.

However, others ask, does it even matter? After all, criminals have landed themselves in jail for a reason, and while for some it may have been due to difficult circumstances and an unfortunate series of events, it's still worth noting that they have violated the law.

But because of the current law, 46 percent of prisoners are being jailed for drug offenses, most of which we can safely assume may be marijuana charges. Out of the total population of convicts across America, 4.1 percent of prisoners are later found to be innocent. This means 1 in 25 adults is falsely imprisoned, and "in a country with millions of criminal convictions a year and more than 2 million people behind bars, even 1 percent amounts to tens of thousands of tragic errors," according to The Washington Post.

Society's harsh view of convicts and ex-convicts has often skewed our treatment of them.

As we've progressed into modern times, the law has been adjusted to our shifting moral compass which has resulted in many changes, such as granting women the right to vote and legalizing alcohol. These two changes in particular affected a majority of the population and thus, were backed strongly and consistently till the government complied. Felons, on the other hand, are locked behind bars with little to no interaction with the rest of society. They not only suffer a "civil death" for their crimes but also face exclusion from normality due to their isolation in prison society which follows the uncivil "code of the street."

Because of the danger associated with mixing criminals and civilians, as well as the fact that our prison system is already pretty messed up, it's all too easy to understand why it's easier for us to just restrict convicts' and ex-convicts' rights when it comes to having a say in political matters.

What we have yet to understand, however, is that the prison system does not become an entity separate from the existence of our nation. The prison system and its prisoners are very much a part of America, and they have understood the horrors of the prison system firsthand, which gives them not only more experience but the right to speak out about change in the system. And perhaps it should also give them the right to cast a vote for a leader who will change the degenerated American prison systems.

But it doesn't seem like that'll be happening anytime soon, considering that, in response to the governor of Virgina signing an executive order that restored the voting rights of over 200,000 ex-felons, Think Progress reports that president-elect Donald Trump said:

“That’s crooked politics...They’re giving 200,000 people that have been convicted of heinous crimes, horrible crimes, the worst crimes, the right to vote because, you know what? They know they’re gonna vote Democrat. They’re gonna vote Democrat and that could be the swing. That’s how disgusting and dishonest our political system is.”
Cover Image Credit: Creative Loafing

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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First-Generation Kids of Brown Parents Are Bridging the Gap Between 'Traditional' and 'Modern'

Speaking as a first-generation child of Indian parents, it's going to be a rough and rocky road for us all.

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I didn't realize or think about what it would be like being the first generation in my entire lineage to live in a country other than India. It just never occurred to me that this was a bigger deal than I thought it was. Yes, I would be living on the opposite side of the world than most my family members, such as my grandparents. But growing up in this country with parents that grew up in India, this is more than just a geographical distance between my family members and I.

My parents left India and came to the United States to ensure that their children (my brother and I) would have more opportunities and live a better life. That kind of transition is definitely not easy because they had to abandon their home, their language, their family, and their country to come to a completely foreign land. It required a lot of struggle, sacrifices and a hell of a lot of courage to do this. And I am forever grateful.

But in a way, this is going to be a way more difficult path for my brother and me, along with any other first-generation children of Indian parents. Not in the sense that we will have to uproot our lives to move across the world, but we will have to face a lot of societal and traditional issues. Right now, it seems as if we don't necessarily belong anywhere. We are different from the other people our age whose families immigrated to the U.S. hundreds of years ago. But we are also different from our parents because they cannot relate to us and we cannot relate to them.

While our parents grew up in a land where things are done a certain way and traditional rules must be followed, it is a little different for us. Growing up in a "melting pot" country where there is diversity of race, religion, and thoughts and ideas, we are constantly exposed to new things.

We were always given the freedom to think and say what we believed and wanted. We have a lot more room for expression than our parents or grandparents ever did. But even though our parents came to this country and were exposed to these thoughts, they stuck with the beliefs they always grew up with because it is a part of their identity. For us, it's a little different because we grew up and surrounded ourselves with all kinds of new people and thoughts.

As amazing and expressive it feels to have this freedom, it also makes it more difficult for first-generation kids because we are going to have to stand up to tradition and introduce these new ideas to not only our parents to all of society. These ideas include dating and love marriages, the extent of religious beliefs and our own faith in God, how to raise kids, distribution of responsibilities in a family where both the husband and wife work, etc.

Our families have done things a certain way for generations and generations, and for the first time, this is going to be disrupted. There is going to be a change in tradition, a revolution. And it's going to be us first-generation children of Indian families that are going to have to bridge the gap between "traditional" and "modern." It's going to be a difficult road, but in the end, it will be worth it because our future kids will have a more open-minded family and society to be a part of.

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