On February 6th, a constitutional amendment was introduced in the California Legislature by Assembly Member Isaac Bryan. Bryan’s amendment would give voting rights to people in prison on felony convictions.
Two days later, David Cruz, an ex-felon who spent thirteen years in state prison and then helped organize a non-profit called Initiate Justice, held a press conference to support the prison vote amendment. Cruz said, “Despite what many people assume, people in prison care about the same political issues that we outside do.”
Is the issue of the right of prisoners to vote important? Or is it trivial?
First off, the amendment is not a shoo-in. To become law, it will have to get a two thirds vote in both California’s Senate and California’s Assembly. And that will be rough.
But if passed, will the amendment automatically do what the Initiate Justice group wants? Will it “advance progressive policies in” California?
Progressives point out that blacks are only 6% of California’s population, but they are a full 20% of California’s prisoners. And if any of these people were falsely accused the way that Tyre Nichols was a month ago, some of these prisoners may be jailed for simply being black. Hence, the argument goes, this is a voter suppression issue.
Explains the leader of America’s progressive movement, Senator Bernie Sanders, ““If we are serious about calling ourselves a democracy, we must firmly establish that the right to vote is an inalienable and universal principle that applies to all American citizens 18 years and older. Period…. whether you’re in jail or not.”
As you’d expect, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the United States Senate, disagrees. He says, ““Voting is a privilege; a privilege properly exercised at the voting booth, not from a prison cell. …We are talking about rapists, murderers, robbers, and even terrorists or spies. Do we want to see convicted terrorists who seek to destroy this country voting in elections? …Do we want to see ‘jailhouse blocs’ banding together to oust sheriffs and government officials who are tough on crime?”
What both Sanders and McConnell ignore is that there are groups in prison far better organized than the Republican or Democratic parties, and that those groups could easily dictate who a prisoner votes for.
First, the black prison population has been subject since the 1950s to recruitment by the Nation of Islam, a virulently anti-Semitic organization whose head calls Jews termites and Satanists.[i] Today, 18% of America’s two million prisoners are Black Muslims. That’s roughly 360,000 prisoners nationwide. A big hunk of potential votes.
Then there are prison gangs. The Latin population of prisons is controlled by the Mexican Mafia, who maintain obedience by killing those who stray from their orders.
And the white population is ruled by groups like the anti-Semitic Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Low Riders, who enforce their power with torture and murder.
What’s worse, these groups also control networks of gangs outside the prison system. Their revenue stream comes from the sale of drugs on the streets and inside prison walls.
If given the chance, do you think the Nation of Islam, the Mexican Mafia, and the Aryan Brotherhood would tell prisoners who to vote for? I suspect they would.
I agree that to maintain a democracy, the right to vote should be absolute. And that the forms of voter suppression first invented 148 years ago to suppress the votes of newly liberated slaves should be abolished.
But in this debate, it’s important to take into account the mechanisms of severe voter enforcement that may be possible far beyond the bounds of progressives and conservatives in our prisons.
Howard Bloom has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV. One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American. He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM. For more, see http://howardbloom.institute.