Every ten years, the entire population of the U.S. is counted by the Census Bureau. Each person is calculated at his or her “usual residence,” and based on these numbers, electoral district lines are drawn, and legislative seats are apportioned. However, for some purposes, more than two million “people in prison in the United States are counted as residents of the district in which they are incarcerated, not of their home prior to incarceration” (Ebenstein, 2018, p. 324). Moreover, some imprisoned persons lose their eligibility to vote because of a criminal conviction, which is the process of felony disenfranchisement. The purpose of this paper is to discuss some aspects of these practices and the reasons why they seem to be wrong.
First of all, there is a way that rural areas can benefit politically from having prisons. According to Ebenstein (2018), when prisoners are counted as residents of their incarceration district, political power gets shifted from urban to rural areas. It is rather problematic since, together with the recent increase in American prisons’ population, such a shift has skewed the distribution of political power and legislative apportionment.
Felony disenfranchisement causes some serious problems that need to be addressed. According to Ebenstein (2018), this process “severely alters our democratic model” (p. 330). If all people with a felony conviction start living in their own state, they will get ten votes in the Electoral College. It is hard to disagree with Ebenstein’s statement as felony disenfranchisement distorts democracy and discriminates against the Americans with a criminal conviction by diminishing representation of their interests (Ebenstein, 2018). Finally, there can be no democracy if some people’s basic rights are taken away.
What stood out to me the most in this reading is that the U.S. treats citizens with a conviction worse than other democratic countries. In other words, America leads the world in the number of its citizens imprisoned, and in terms of felony disenfranchisement, it is considered to be one of the strictest democracies (Ebenstein, 2018). This fact stood out to me because I believed that America is fighting for the rights of all its citizens. Felony disenfranchisement is a severe social problem because it contributes to discrimination and imbalance. There are some ways to eliminate this issue, and one of them is to take an example from other democratic countries with more fair disenfranchisement policies.
Ebenstein, J. A. (2018). The geography of mass incarceration: Prison gerrymandering and the dilution of prisoners’ political representation. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 45(2), 323-372.