The Missing American Voters

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Voting by Todd Van Hoosear

Illustration by Todd Van Hoosear via Flickr

In 1917, William Tyler Page’s award-winning essay, “The American’s Creed,” was described as the best summary of the political faith of America.  In it, Page emphatically declares:

“I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed.”

To Page, America was “a perfect Union” established upon “principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity.”  But even at the time he wrote his essay,  throughout the country, literacy tests and poll taxes, whites-only primaries, and domestic terrorism were all serving to keep millions of Americans from voting.

A century later, millions of Americans are still kept from the ballot box every year.

Call them the felonious class.

Every election cycle, these current and former inhabitants of our nation’s prisons and jails are barred from voting—not because of their immutable characteristics, but because of their criminal histories.

I am one of its members.

Through six presidential cycles, I have been confined.  Throughout that time, little has changed with respect to how prisoners perceive national elections.  For the most part it is pure spectacle, its entertainment value dependent upon the prisoner’s disposition.

The majority are simply ambivalent.  While they believe certain issues will affect them or their loved ones and thus prefer a particular candidate, because there is nothing they can do to affect the election’s outcome, they lose interest by November and will have focused their attention on a greater spectacle—the NFL.

For the apathetic, who seem to believe that their lives are unaffected by politics, an election means nothing.  Were a more politically-conscious fellow prisoner to point out that the sentences they received stemmed from policies made by elected officials, it would be a wasted breath.

Then there are the pseudo-politicos.  If a prisoner missed the latest election coverage on Fox News or MSNBC, they need go no further than the dayroom to hear from, what would appear to be, several prisoners hired as campaign surrogates.  These uninformed experts love to regurgitate the opinions of their favorite talking heads.

This, of course, is the extent of their political activity.

The simple fact is that voting has never seemed all that important to prisoners.  When viewed in context of recidivism rates, the reason for this is apparent.

Two-thirds of those who are released end up back behind bars within three years.  Rest assured, few of them spent their time confined concerned about public policy.  Most were anxiously awaiting their opportunity to pick up where they left off, hoping for a different result.

As for the one-third of prisoners who get out and never return, taking advantage of rehabilitative programs and figuring out how to overcome obstacles on the outside is the priority—not voting.

Yet when someone does indeed manage to reintegrate into law-abiding society, there is no basis for them to live within the shadows of democracy.

The fact of the matter is the felon who wishes to vote is no longer the person whose image is captured in a mugshot.  They are taxpayers, spouses, students, and employees.  They have beaten the odds, and undoubtedly have a more stringent appreciation for the right to vote than Americans who have had the luxury of taking it for granted.

When William Tyler Page closed his essay he concluded with, “I [] believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its constitution; to obey it’s laws; to respect it’s flag; and to defend it against all enemies.”

That the felonious class can live by the American’s Creed yet be forced to forego their right to vote reinforces the view that none of us are worthy to ever again be full members of society.

I get the message.  It’s loud and clear.

You’re a criminal—nothing more, nothing less.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Stay out of the way and let “real”  Americans concern themselves with politics.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, WA, where he is currently serving 25 years to life for a crime committed when he was 14. He will be eligible to go before the parole board in 2017. He welcomes comments from readers.

2 thoughts on “The Missing American Voters

  1. a double criminal offense: The Census Bureau still is planning to count prisoners in place of incarceration not in place of residence, thus depriving their communities of their “count” and then when released, their communities are again deprived of their vote when felons are not allowed to vote. Hoping both are fixed soon. .

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