Karen Celestino-Horseman: The right (or not) to vote when convicted of a crime

May 24, 2019

Celestino-HorsemanUnder Indiana law, if a voter is found guilty of a crime and imprisoned, he or she loses the right to vote during the period of incarceration. People on probation, parole, home detention or being held in jail while their cases are pending are eligible to vote.

The right to participate in governance is a principle upon which our country was founded, so the right to vote is sacrosanct. For this reason, a voter should be disenfranchised only under strict circumstances.

A voter convicted of only a misdemeanor should not lose his or her right to vote, but under Indiana law, this happens; the state statute does not distinguish between a conviction for a felony and a conviction for a misdemeanor. It is an easy fix and one our legislators should address. Persons imprisoned for misdemeanors (typically in the county jail) should be allowed to vote during their period of incarceration.

While the right to vote is sacrosanct, it is not limitless. If an individual is convicted of a felony and imprisoned, then loss of the right to vote while imprisoned is simply one of the many rights curtailed as a result of that imprisonment. When one is imprisoned for a felony, all constitutional rights are limited because the parameters of the imprisonment severely limit the exercise of those rights—e.g., the right to travel. Upon release from prison, the right to vote can once again be exercised under Indiana law.

We need to take steps to make certain the right to vote of persons involved in the criminal justice system is not infringed. For example, those being held in county jails pending disposition of their criminal charges need to be offered the opportunity to vote absentee. Those convicted of felonies and imprisoned need to be informed upon their release that their right to vote has been restored. And we need to amend Indiana law so those who have been convicted of misdemeanors do not lose their right to vote while in jail.

Our penal system is intended not to just punish but also to rehabilitate. Unless an individual is made to feel he or she is a part of society, rehabilitation becomes harder for the former felons who already find their opportunities and roles in society affected by their convictions.

Encouraging them to vote as part of their social responsibility is one small but important step in bringing them within society.•


Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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