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Andrei Poama and Tom Theuns about why voting in prison should be mandatory

Poama and Theuns co-wrote an opinion piece on why voting in prison should be mandatory worldwide. It appeared on National Interest's website on February 12.

Oblige felons to vote

Poama and Theuns argue that democratic governments should legally oblige felons to vote and call them to account if they don’t instead of banning prisoners from voting or making it difficult for them to vote. Worldwide about a quarter of democratic countries disenfranchise at least some their prisoners. In Europe, all but nine countries impose at least some restrictions on offender’s suffrage in or after prison. Poama and Theuns think this has to change. When governments strip felons of their right to vote, they practice the opposite of what they preach. They tell felons that they are second-class citizens, that they can’t be trusted to contribute to our collective decisions and that “honest citizens” are better than them.

Fundamental right and a civic role

Poama and Theuns argue: 'The right to vote is fundamental to democracy. It should not be seen as a favour or a privilege that depends on other people’s goodwill. Other citizens or unelected judges shouldn’t be in a position to deprive us of such rights; this makes all our voting rights more fragile'. 

According to the authors, this is not the only reason why voting should be compulsory; it can play a civic role as well.  Felons disproportionately come from disadvantaged socio-economic groups and people from those groups are less likely to vote. Poama and Theuns: 'Compulsory criminal voting can therefore help habituate otherwise marginalised and excluded citizens to exercise their democratic rights'. 

Read the whole article here

Andrei Poama's research focus is on normative theories of punishment, criminal justice ethics, the connection between principles of justice and the problem of (government) authority, the ethics of public policy, and democratic theory. One of his aims is to create an environment that explores the moral questions involved in criminal justice ethics from a philosophical angle, but in a way that welcomes the involvement of criminal justice officials and practitioners perspective.

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