You can run for U.S. President if you have a felony, but you can not vote in many places.
Requirements to run for President:
- Be a natural-born citizen of the United States
- Be at least 35 years old
- Have been a resident of the United States for 14 years
Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution
To represent one of the world’s most powerful nations, all you have to be is a mediocre white man. For good or ill, a felony does not disqualify you from seeking high office. While most people will NEVER become President, voting for one is a common experience.
A felony conviction that prohibits a person’s right to vote impacts people of all races. The men who wrote this restrictive policy did so with the direct purpose of disenfranchising Black voters.
The maneuvering to prevent people with felonies from voting coincides with the end of slavery and broadening Black people’s right to vote under Reconstruction.
During Reconstruction, officially December 8, 1863 – March 31, 1877, Black people could vote in large parts of the United States, even the South.
There were Black governors like Governor P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana, Senators like Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi, and Congressman in the South. Black voters helped make the dreams of the Emancipation Proclamation a reality in the 1860s.
The Fourteenth Amendment stated:
Section 1. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws…
The Fifteen Amendment even further strengthened the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifteen Amendment was explicitly designed to make it challenging for states to disenfranchise Black voters. Section 2. of the Fifteen Amendment even allowed for criminal penalties for disenfranchising Black voters.
The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870. It was the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.
The Southern White Aristocracy project an image of genteel honor and decency, but just like the prim and proper devil in a white suit, it lacked this decency and honor. No problem, because they had something better— fiendish imagination. After studying the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and realizing they couldn’t just lynch everyone and continue to try to sell the idea of Southern Hospitality, they decided to figure out a way to create a legal disenfranchising policy. Southern states grasped on to Section 2. of the Fourteenth Amendment and owing to their satanic gift of storytelling, they beguiled quite a few people to champion their interpretation.
Section 2. of the Fourteenth Amendment is often cited as Constitutional support for felon voter disenfranchisement:
[W]hen the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime (the interpretation is —everyone can vote except these people and other crimes is a felony), the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Many formerly Confederate states specifically designed their felon disenfranchisement laws to increase these laws’ effect on Black citizens.
Doing this had two results:
1. Stopping Black people from voting.
2. Getting around the Thirteenth Amendment and re-enslaving Black people. Often people were re-enslaved via the prison system and sent back to their prior owner, that actually happened.
Keep in mind the white supremacist Lost Cause interpretation of Section 2. is wrong and illegal AND creating laws specifically to target Black people so you can stop them from voting and then re-enslave them is most definitely illegal.
The Supreme Court’s majority interpretation of the history of Section 2. has been strongly criticized by many people. It isn’t just a thing the smart people agree on. We do not. In Justice Marshall’s dissent, he argued that Section 2. was not intended to exempt felons from equal protection under the Fourteen and Fifteen Amendments. Section 2. was written as a special remedy of reduced representation to cure Black people’s disenfranchisement when an explicit grant of rights for Black people was not politically possible due to the political climate as it was immediately following the end of slavery.
In Maine (88% white prison population) and Vermont (82% white prison population) people with felony convictions and people who are in prison are allowed to vote. The blatant misinterpretation of Section 2. to disenfranchise voters who are imprisoned or have a felony by the South and their wicked sisters of the West is blatant racism, and specifically rooted in antiblackness.
If any person off the street can run for President, then any person off the street should be allowed to vote. The Presidency requirements cannot be more lenient and forgiving than the requirements for the masses who vote.
I know many will read this and think, “We need more requirements for President!”
No, we do not need more requirements or more puritanical and classist barriers for the high office. We should have fewer requirements. Immigrants should be allowed to run for President. The U.S. should lower the age requirement for the Presidency to 25-years-old.
What we need is to stop letting racists interpret the living and breathing document that is our Constitution. There is nothing in the Constitution that legally disenfranchises current prisoners or past prisoners from voting. The prison industrial complex should be dismantled. It is based entirely on antiblackness, and letting every prisoner vote, as the white prisoners in Maine and Vermont can do, is step one in this process.