Winter 2001 Home   Newsletters

Spring 2002

Council 2002

President's Message: Hawaii Has the Most Apathetic Voter Turnout... (Maile Bay)
Redistricting Work Done (Jean Aoki)
Support for Voting for Incarcerated Felons (Dorothy Cornell)
How it Looks for Schools in the Legislature (Mary Anne Raywid)
Invitation: Saunders Hall Dedication
One Afternoon at the Legislature (Jean Aoki)
Ice (Marian Wilkins)
Campaign Finance Reform (HCE) (Laure Dillon)
Local League News - Big Island - Kona (Marian Wilkins)
Local League News - Big Island - Hilo (Alberta Lindsay)
Local League News - Honolulu (Pearl Johnson)
Local League News - Kauai (Carol Bain)
Lunch 'n' Learn the Law
Council Meeting May 18

Support for Voting for Incarcerated Felons

At its meeting on Saturday, February 9, 2002, the State Board of the Hawaii League of Women Voters voted to support HB 2604 giving incarcerated felons the right to vote.

Although the National League has no official position on this subject, they have a generic position that all citizens should be able to vote.

Yet at present Maine and Vermont are the only states allowing the incarcerated to vote. The League in Maine gave powerful testimony before the legislature in 2001, helping to kill a disenfranchisement bill. The League pointed out that crime was not reduced by disenfranchisement, since they were already in prison.

Several states have only fairly recently disenfranchised incarcerated felons: Massachusetts in 2000 (overturning a practice that had existed since the Revolutionary War); Utah in 1998 (overturning a practice that had existed since Statehood). In both States the League gave testimony before the Legislature trying to retain the franchise. Also, in both states, the disenfranchisement was initiated by politicians trying to cash in on an "I'm not soft on crime," posture. In New Hampshire, a 1998 law disenfranchised incarcerated felons, a court found that unconstitutional, and the state supreme court overturned the ruling, upholding the law.

Before the American Revolution, the British, looking for a way to control those bothersome colonists, tried putting as many as possible in prison in order to disenfranchise them, according to English law. Disenfranchising in England was a reform. Prior to that the convicted were declared non-persons, with no human rights. (Really none. You could take their property if you wanted it. Before that, they just killed them.)

When the 13 Colonies wrote their constitutions, they sought to avoid unnecessary disenfranchisement. Alas, as time went on, members of the governing class came to the conclusion that those British knew a thing or two about control of the citizens, and disenfranchisement laws were passed. In Alabama and Mississippi, they were clearly racist, with some felonies warranting disenfranchisement and others not.


I do not want Hawaii to waste its money building another prison. If the recidivism rate declined, another prison would not be necessary. Enfranchisement of the incarcerated may help them come to feel a part of the general community, and thus reduce recidivism. It may not, but it doesn't cost anything to try.

Dorothy Cornell

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