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Our democracy was founded upon liberties exemplified by the right to vote. Citizens choose their leaders and their laws. It is a cherished right, but it is reserved in many countries for only those who abide by the laws. "International Perspective on Criminal Disenfranchisement Law" (Cambridge University Press 2009), a new collection of essays co-edited by University of Houston political science assistant professor Brandon Rottinghaus, examines how the United States and other countries address current and ex-prisoners and the right to vote.
"These policies, called ‘felony disenfranchisement,' are the last surviving blanket restriction on the voting rights of adult citizens," Rottinghaus said. "Some countries allow prisoners to retain the right to vote, while others disqualify even those who have completed their sentences. In our book, legal scholars, advocates and political scientists provide perspective on this question."
Rottinghaus and co-editor Alec C. Ewald, assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont, note that several international court systems, including those in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Africa, have seen high-profile felony disenfranchisement cases in the past five years. Those cases have prompted legislative action and, in some cases, advocacy efforts. But some argue that the right to vote should be refused to those who have violated the norms of civil society.
"In deciding whether prisoners should retain the right to vote, a country faces vital questions about democratic self-definition, constitutional values and the scope of judicial power," Rottinghaus said. "With this collection, professor Ewald and I try to fill the gaps between voting rights and election law."
The book features 10 essays that address such issues as protecting a prisoner's right to vote, campaigns to preserve prisoner suffrage in South Africa and Ireland, and the politics of prisoner disenfranchisement in Australia. The foreword was written by Jeff Manza, a sociology professor at New York University who also has authored a book on criminal disenfranchisement.
Rottinghaus researches public opinion, democracy and the presidency. He is author of the white paper "Incarceration and Enfranchisement: International Practices, Impact and Recommendations for Reform" for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. His works have appeared in many professional journals, including the Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly and Political Communication.
Ewald's research focuses on election law, American political development and criminal justice. His work has been published in the Justice System Journal, Wisconsin Law Review, Columbia Human Rights Law Review and Law & Courts.
For more information on "International Perspective on Criminal Disenfranchisement Law," visit http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521875615.
For more information on the UH department of political science, visit http://www.polsci.uh.edu/index.html.