by Tracy R. Walsh
Jessica Chiappone laments losing her rights at the ballot box after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess cocaine:
I served seven months in a federal prison in Texas, where I was subjected to strip searches every other day after being sent into a forest to chop trees. I spent one year in a halfway house in Brooklyn, and then three years on supervised release – one year earlier than projected. I graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice. I found a job and paid my taxes. I became a mother, graduated from law school and passed the New York State Bar Exam. … Despite my time served and my accomplishments as a legitimate contributing member of society, my fundamental right to vote in Florida was denied – along with several other rights that are supposed to be inalienable in America.
The United States passively accepts the existence of second-class citizenship. Rather than provide an opportunity for automatic restoration of voting rights, Florida imposes a subjective review process that leaves the formerly incarcerated with no clear standard to meet: intrusive and uninformed questions about financial stability, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS – none of which are barriers to voting for those not convicted of crimes, nor should they ever be.
(Map of state felony disenfranchisement laws via ACLU)