Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More on Felon Enfranchisement: Voter Turnout in Israeli Prisons Surges

Today's short commentary comes from Israel, where exit poll results are out. Big political questions aside, there has been an interesting change in voter turnout in ballots located in prisons. As some readers might know, Israel fully enfranchises both current and former inmates; even Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for murdering Prime Minister Rabin in 1995, has the right to vote. But traditionally, voter turnout among inmates has been fairly low. Haaretz newspaper reports:

נתונים מעניינים מבתי הסוהר, שם נסגרו הקלפיות ב-20:00. בסך הכול, הצביעו 7,435 אסירים, שהם 70.6% מבעלי זכות ההצבעה. זו עלייה דרמטית בהשוואה לבחירות 2009, אז הצביעו רק 21%, זאת בשל שינוי בחוק שהוביל שב"ס לזיהוי האסירים בכרטיס אסיר ללא צורך בתעודות זהות, שלרוב לא היו ברשותם. עד כה נאלצו האסירים לשלם מכספם כדי להנפיק תעודות חדשות ולכן ויתרו בדרך כלל על ההשתתפות. מלבדם הצביעו גם 1,295 אנשי סגל. לא נרשמו אירועים חריגים לאורך היום.

Interesting data from prisons, where ballot boxes closed at 8pm. Overall, 7,435 inmates voted, who constitute 70.6% of all inmates eligible to vote. This is a dramatic increase compared to the 2009 elections, in which only 21% [of inmates] voted, due to a change in law that led the Prison Authority to identify inmates based on their inmate card without need for an Israeli I.D., which they often did not have. Until now, inmates had to pay out of pocket to obtain new I.D. cards and therefore usually forewent their right [to vote]. In addition [to the inmates], 1,295 correctional staff voted. No unusual events were recorded during the day. [My translation - H.A.]

This is interesting, albeit anecdotal, data for several reasons. First, it refutes the notion that voter turnout among the inmate population is universally low, or the assumption that it would be low if they were given the vote in countries in which they are disenfranchised. Second, and more interestingly, it effectively refutes the tendency to ascribe low turnout to voter apathy. Rather, it indicates that the expense involved in documentation and bureaucracy - even when there is no real voter fraud concerns, or if they are bogus - is the real deterrent from voting. This has implications beyond the inmate population, as to voter I.D. laws in the US in general, criticized - rather colorfully - by Sarah Silverman before the 2012 U.S. election.

The concern about low voter turnout is real, and the corollary - as the Israeli inmate case tells us - is that facilitating the right to vote for people for whom obtaining the appropriate card is an expense or a hassle enriches the electorate in people who are engaged and interested in impacting life in their communities.

And who knows? Maybe recidivism rates in Israel are lower because people are never divorced from the fate of their countries and never cease to be enfranchised citizens.

No comments: