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LETTERS

Tide is turning, rightly, to considering voting rights behind bars

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More recent survey shows many Mass. residents support re-enfranchisement

In an April 19 Opinion piece, “Felons are locked up for a reason, and it isn’t so they can vote,” columnist Jeff Jacoby argues against the re-enfranchisement of those currently incarcerated in Massachusetts. In doing so, he cites outdated national polling and fails to cite a recent UMass Amherst/WCVB poll showing that Massachusetts residents surveyed support restoring voting rights to those serving a prison sentence by 9 percentage points (49 percent to 40 percent). This support extends across men and women, race, income levels, and nearly every category of educational attainment.

Jacoby reminds readers that Massachusetts formerly allowed those incarcerated to vote until a constitutional ballot question rescinded that right in 2000. But that was almost 23 years ago. The public’s views have changed. Indeed, Massachusetts residents 18 to 29 years old, many of whom were not alive then, support enfranchisement by an astonishing 71 percent to 20 percent.

With a near majority of Massachusetts residents in favor of ending disenfranchisement, it appears the Bay State is ready to have a serious conversation about our democratic values — whether or not Jacoby agrees.

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Adam Eichen

Easthampton

Maddi Hertz

Easthampton

Eichen is a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hertz is a lecturer at UMass Amherst. Both are fellows with UMass Amherst Poll.


Voter disenfranchisement for the sake of punishment is poor policy

Jeff Jacoby’s column “Felons are locked up for a reason, and it isn’t so they can vote” embodies the regressive thinking that ensures that prisons and jails remain institutions of punishment at the expense of rehabilitation. The argument that Jacoby is championing rests on the idea that only the guilty are incarcerated, that certain demographics are not disproportionately subjected to incarceration (even for the same crime), and that allowing incarcerated people to vote is broadly unpopular. Evidence shows that all these assumptions are untrue.

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In 2020, a program at Harvard Law School published a report showing that Black and Latinx people are overrepresented in incarceration relative to their share of the state population. They are also more likely than white people to receive harsher sentences. Stripping incarcerated people of voting rights must be framed within the continuum of policies that cause voter disenfranchisement of people of color. Further, more recent Massachusetts-specific polls show that restoring voting rights to those who are serving a prison sentence for a felony conviction is opposed by only 44 percent of people.

Allowing incarcerated people to civically engage contributes to rehabilitation, which benefits everyone in Massachusetts. The idea of denying civic engagement for the sake of punishment belongs in the ash heap of history.

Elizabeth Matos

Executive director

Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts

Boston

Kristina Mensik

Organizer

Democracy Behind Bars

Cambridge