Voting in Prison (You Can’t)

5/9/18

So… Like… I’m officially old or something? At least that’s the message society gives me in relation to this particular birthday. I’ve been telling people that “while I may be technically turning 30, I’m actually turning 29 for the second time just to have an excuse to complain about being old.” Hey! It’s a lot more fun than complaining about other stuff. Right?

Anyway, for any of you wondering what I would like for my birthday, I’ll tell you.

I want to be able to vote.

It’s something that’s been more and more in the forefront of my mind the past few years. Especially since at one time or another I’ve had penpals who, when we were discussing politics, mentioned that they hadn’t bothered voting on more than one occasion. Like when it was Bush v. Gore or for Obama’s second term. I only got to vote in one midterm election before going to county jail where I wasn’t able to vote despite not yet having been convicted of a felony. Being in prison means I didn’t get to vote for Obama or against Trump and I haven’t gotten to use my vote to weigh in on a Washington state legislature which keeps not wanting to think about sentencing reform.

And that’s the real kicker of this particular debate. With so many people locked up who cannot vote, what would happen to all the state senators and representatives who have –for decades — ignored prisoner issues, given Correctional Industries a monopoly in prisons, and steadily increased mandatory minimums to an insane degree? Would Christine Gregoire have been able to get reelected if every US citizen in a Washington prison was allowed to vote? How much more or less secure would Jay Inslee’s reelection be if people in prison got to chime in on election day?

Those are actually easier to answer than one may think. Nobody in prison liked Gregoire. Long story short, she was really mean to prisoners. I’ll leave it at that. Inslee, on the other hand, is willing to give people a chance and wanting to enact positive prison reform.
Three guesses how prisoners would vote?
In any case, currently anyone in a Washington prison is not allowed to vote. Period. According to ACLU, once a person is “no longer under the authority of the Department of Corrections” (whatever that means) they automatically regain the “right” to vote. Unlike one’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, there is no need to go to a judge and petition the court to give it back. It just happens. Go register to vote and you’re good to go.

I think this is wrong, especially in state and local level elections.

The state legislature, governor, attorney general, and district attorney all have far more of an effect on the lives of people in prison than the average citizen.

Our lives.

My life.

And yet, I do not have the means to address them about my issues because I cannot vote, which means even if I do write them a letter, I am not apart of their constituency and therefore they have exactly zero reason to listen to anything I have to say.

I, as a natural-born citizen, am not allowed to engage in the political process that currently governs how I will live out the rest of my life and there is nothing I can do about it, beyond, ya know, writing about it like this and hoping my words are able to spark the interest of people whose voice may actually be listened to by politicians.

Now, I’m sure that there are some people out there somewhere (Republicans) thinking “you did what you did, not getting to vote is part of the punishment for that.” Okay, I see your point and I raise you the following:

Boston Tea Party.

Taxation without representation.

While I do not pay income tax due to making such a pathetic amount of money, I do pay sales tax on anything I buy off the inmate store, which means every time there has been a sales tax on the ballot or in the state legislature, that tax is being applied to me and other people in prison without representation.

Many of the early American colonists were either criminals booted out of their home country or the children of criminals. Granted, not as many as Australia (for example), but still enough to make my argument valid. They were felons banished from England’s shores. We are felons banished from polite society’s company.

The Revolutionary War rallied around this issue among others. So please, explain to me how it’s somehow legal to do this, when our country quite literally built a rebellion on the principal of not doing this.

With the Thirteenth Amendment, criminals were turned into slaves and formerly enslaved black men were given the right to vote if they could meet the landowning requirement of the time. Later, the requirement of owning land was dropped and eventually suffragettes won the right to vote for women, the so-called “Universal Suffrage.” But how can it be universal if every adult that wishes to vote is not, in fact, allowed to vote?

Furthermore, an argument could be made that the system is desperately trying to return to a state in which only affluent white men are allowed to vote. The white supremacy of the “justice” system is incarcerating people of color far more than white people (regardless of whether you adjust for “per capita” or not) and the steady increase in the incarceration rate of women over the past decades supports this argument. By locking people up the state is deciding what populations get to have a political voice, and what populations are to be disenfranchised.

As I said earlier, I think this is wrong. There are states where people in prison still retain their right to vote, and use it! Washington should be like them in this regard.

For the longest time all I wanted for Christmas was my two front teats. It may have taken him a while, but Santa came through for me on that this year. Now for my birthday I think I’ll start asking to be able to vote.

With the way politics are in America these days… come November, who knows?

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