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Congress must pass law that allows former prisoners to vote

As the leader of a prison ministry, I strongly support the Democracy Restoration Act because I know that people can be redeemed. Yet for redemption to impact the nation, people must be restored to their communities, and restoration requires an opportunity – like voting.

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Presidential candidate former Sen. Rick Santorum, left, speaks as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens in a Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 16. The two sparred over voting rights for former prisoners.

REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool

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A tussle between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in Monday’s GOP primary debate highlighted one issue that too often gets overlooked – restoring the right to vote in federal elections for those with past criminal convictions. As Congress reconvenes this week, lawmakers must get behind a bill that would restore this right to former prisoners living and working in American communities.

As the leader of a large personal discipleship ministry for people in prison and their children, I strongly support the Democracy Restoration Act because I know that people can be redeemed.

Moses and David (both murderers) are notable examples in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But redemption is also a fundamental American concept, one that resonates across all religions and ethnicities. Yet for redemption to impact the nation, people must be restored to their communities, and restoration requires an opportunity.

The Democracy Restoration Act, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, offers such an opportunity. It gives former prisoners a chance to engage in what is at its core a pro-social act – voting. It gives them a tangible way to demonstrate that they care about their community and their country. And it offers them a chance to align with like-minded citizens to promote common policy goals.

Perhaps most importantly, the legislation invests former prisoners with the responsibility for their community that all Americans have as citizens. The Democracy Restoration Act also gives the United States an opportunity to redeem itself. As a nation, we, too, have made terrible mistakes – the Three Fifths Compromise on counting slaves, slavery itself, and Jim Crow are just a few. But Americans have strived to right those wrongs and to move forward rather than sticking to the unjust policies of the past.

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