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Letter to the Editor: A Right is Not a Reward

The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this newspaper. We welcome supporting or opposing views on any published item. Received May 30, 2023.

“Why would we want to reward violent murderers, robbers, and rapists for their heinous crimes with the right to vote?”  This was a question posed in a recent Letter to the Editor expressing concerns over a new bill that would allow individuals who are incarcerated to vote.  This is an understandable sentiment, and one that is likely shared by many across both the state and the nation; however, I find myself deeply troubled by its implications.

When the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights, they made it very clear that the document was never intended to give rights to citizens.  Rather, we are born with rights.  The founding fathers knew that it was not within the power of any earthly government to bestow them.  Their intention was only to describe certain inherent rights so that they could be protected.

In other words, a right is not a reward.  A right is something owed to a person simply by virtue of their being a person.  It is true that those who commit certain crimes and are incarcerated have forfeited certain rights such as the right to free movement; however, this should be done only as necessary to protect society.  No danger is posed to society by preserving the right to vote for individuals who are incarcerated.

In fact, the right to vote in incarcerated populations is actually vital to allow them to protect themselves.  Throughout the history of the United States, voting rights have been restricted in order to take advantage of people.  Prison populations have been subjected to many forms of abuse, including forced labor and forced experimentation.  If able to vote, individuals who are incarcerated would be able to use their voices to speak out against unfair treatment.

The prison system is intended to rehabilitate people to reenter society.  How can we accomplish this goal if we do not recognize incarcerated persons as individuals with inherent unalienable rights?

Ryan Weis, Higganum

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