Time has come to declare voting a universal, fundamental right

By Robin Vanderwall . . .

I voted today.

I know. What’s the big deal, right? Most Americans exercise the privilege sorta like they wash their cars. Sometimes it’s important. Other times, whatever.

And that’s all it is, you know. A privilege. Yes, it’s 2016. Yes, we talk a good game about self-government and democracy. But voting in American, unlike speech and breeding, still doesn’t rank as “fundamental” in the pantheon of rights, at least not “legally” speaking.

Split hairs, if you wish. But fundamental rights are, well, fundamental. Certainly, they are subject to reasonable limitations and often meted out according to circumstances.

But voting is peculiar.   Either you have a 100% “right” to vote, or you have no vote at all. There’s no “in between.” No gray area. It’s like carrying a driver’s license. You either have one or you don’t. And your “right” to drive quickly comes into focus. Yep. Just a privilege.

The only reasonable way to consider the right to vote fundamental is to declare that it is a birthright to which every human being is guaranteed and that nothing under heaven or devised by man can separate the person from his politic.

Man is, by nature, a political animal. So said Aristotle. And what it’s our nature to be, properly ordered, is inviolably and inextricably the substance of who we are.

In four years I managed five races in Virginia. Three successfully; two not. But in each campaign there came that awkward moment. “So who you gonna vote for, Robin?”

The question was always in jest. Clearly, I’d vote for the candidate for whom I was working. Only problem was, I couldn’t.

I was registered to vote, but I was so determined to remain a North Carolinian (I mean, seriously, WHO would sign up to be Virginian??), that I refused to move my registration.

When it was time to vote, I’d go home. After all, I had a future to consider. I wanted a clean voting record. It was important to my grand plans. I wish it were possible to say why, but I’ve forgotten.

I’ve forgotten a lot of things. I almost forgot why, at some such point in my life, I was so serious about voting and participating in the election process that I actually refused to move my registration to another state.

But I will never forget what it felt like sitting in a jail cell pondering the great losses I faced: ruined reputation, loss of professional life, unfinished law degree, mom’s broken heart . . . and coming to realize that none of them was quite so painful as the thought that I might never be able to vote again.

Nothing ever made me feel as empty, as worthless, as that.

Worse still was that there really was no way of knowing if or when I would ever be allowed to vote again. I was convicted in Virginia (of a speech crime, ironically), and Virginia is known to be one of the toughest states in the nation for restoring the civil rights of the formerly incarcerated.

My home state of North Carolina is kinder, gentler – a land of humility between two mountains of conceit. Once a prisoner has finished his time and completed his probation, voila, his right to vote is automatically restored. No need for a certificate of approval to recover a right that should have never been taken away in the first place.

Yet there remained a problem for me. The trial judge sentenced me to seven years in prison and an “indeterminate” period of probation afterward. Nobody knew exactly what that meant. So the probation officer assigned to my case decided that, in her estimation, “indeterminate” meant 50 years!

This absurdity would take five years and a letter of clarification from the judge to remedy. And even then, I languished away on probation for two more years before I was finally assigned to a probation officer who thought enough was enough. I had spent more time on probation than I had in prison.

Fast forward to Ash Wednesday, 2016. With my forehead smeared black and a little bit of Jesus in my belly, I went home to do some work. After an hour or so, my phone rang. On the other end was my probation officer saying she had great news! My case was closed. I was finally off of probation.

Strange transition. Nothing really changed. As we all know, it’s the sex offender registry that ruins your life….despite it being “no more onerous” than the requirement to register one’s vehicle. I kept waiting to feel something. Anything. Joy? Excitement? Relief?

I called or emailed everyone I thought might care. There was plenty of excitement for them. And I found myself under-whelmed by the question almost all of them asked. “Does this mean you no longer have to register?”

No. It doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, the registration requirement could extend beyond the grave . . . at least the effects of it could and almost certainly will. Hundreds of years from now, people will still be able to Google me. And some poor sap who lives at any of the addresses that my mere presence has contaminated will wonder why his home gets egged.

It wasn’t until the following day that I stumbled upon a mechanism for the catharsis I was seeking. I would register to vote! That would be significant. That would be life-changing. That would help me feel like I was really an American again.

By Monday I felt safe to check the NC Board of Elections’ website. And there it was: My name. My address. My registration number. I was whole again. Or I was as whole as the law would presently allow.

I could hardly put it into words. So I just captured the screen and forwarded it to several of my closest friends. Look at me! I’ve got the franchise! All the miles marched, all the blood spilled, all the lives lost in the long campaign to secure the blessings of liberty rest upon a solitary proposition: a person is nothing and nobody without the right to cast a vote and participate in the processes of government.

And so, as we pay witness to this sordid affair of presidential campaigning, let us consider the possibility of rethinking this business of voting. Isn’t it time, once and for all, to declare it such a fundamental right of human beings that there ought be nothing save death to separate one from the other?

someone outside of NARSOL

Written by 

Occasionally we will share articles that have been published elsewhere. This is a common practice as long as only a portion of the piece is shared; a full piece is very occasionally shared with permission. In either case, the author's name and the place of original publication are displayed prominently and with links.

18 Thoughts to “Time has come to declare voting a universal, fundamental right”

  1. AvatarDave

    I’ve known Robin for about 20 years and worked with him on some of those Virginia campaigns… One that would ultimately produce a governor.

    Robin was found guilty of a crime that never involved another “person” and in which he never got within 50 yards of the supposed victim.

    It was like the TV show ‘To Catch a Predator’ but in Robin’s case the perpetrator just drove by and Chris Hansen wss stuck in a house full of cameras and nothing to report.

    The fact Robin was awarded 50 years of supervised probation was just the exclamation point to his case. His being identified, for life, as a violent sex offender for his imagination was the lasting impression of how the courts in Virginia and many states continue to destroy lives.

    Robin I’m happy for you!

    1. AvatarRobin

      Thank you, Dave. Best regards!

  2. As a Virginia (mostly) conservative, I was elated to accept the restoration of rights from a liberal governor. I, too, will vote this year. Although my friend in North Carolina demeans the Commonwealth of Virginia, I could be offended, but am not. For political advantage, our General Assembly uses ignorance and fear every year with more sex offender “public safety” bills. I wonder, all too often, if this entire country is one of the few that has gotten justice all wrong. After all, only the tiny Seychelles has a higher per capita incarceration rate than we.

    1. AvatarRobin

      I appreciate your grace, JP. 😉 I couldn’t resist the dig. After all, I have more reasons to despise Virginia than most people do.

  3. AvatarJR

    I am looking forward to the restoration of my voting rights when I met the criteria and have the money for the attorney’s fees. I miss my participation in political movements and hope your story can be similar to mine in the future. I find your story interesting but I am finding some portions to be unclear to me:

    1)I was convicted in Virginia (of a speech crime, ironically)
    *is “speech crime” a type-o? What is that and how does it earn 7 years in prison

    2) were you working on political campaigns while being a registered citizen?

    Thanks for sharing

    1. AvatarRobin

      I’ve always referred to it as a speech crime because the evidence in the case consisted entirely of recorded chat conversations. There were no images and there was no meeting. One of my attorneys regarded it as a “botched” sting operation that, because of my political connections and the high visibility of the case, the VA Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s office was determined to use as “shock value” in the prosecution of similar cases. At sentencing, the judge actually went on record claiming that my case would “send a message” and be an “example” of the dangers of internet predation (something we now know was largely a creation of the sting operations themselves).

      I have served as a consultant to one additional campaign since my conviction. I doubt there will be more…although I’m certainly qualified.

    2. AvatarJR

      Thank you for the clarification. I appreciate it.

    3. AvatarJohn W.

      I also know what it felt like to lose the right to vote. I knew that my right would automatically be returned when my probation was over. But there was something about election time that really made me think about what I really had loss. I’ve always enjoyed the American election process. Between 1986 and 1991, when I was on probation, I always had that underlying feeling that my beliefs and/or opinion had become marginalized. I didn’t count anymore. I was one of those arrogant people who believed that a person’s “real voice” can only be heard in the voting booth. I could tell a person that if they didn’t vote, their opinion was only words, and nothing more. So, when I received all of my rights back, except the right to defend myself or family with a handgun, and/or live with someone who had the right to defend themselves or family with a handgun, I celebrated that time.

      I haven’t done anything illegal since 1981. I have done everything that I’m suppose to do. I’ve raised a family, I was active in church, financially and physically supported all types of ministries. Paid my taxes. Paid my dues. Always polite and not a mean bone in my body. My wife and children, friends and coworkers that I do have, love, respect and trust me. (Well, maybe my coworkers just like me.)

      Fast forward from 1996 to 2016. Every year, bar none, I have lost one type of a right or another. I haven’t changed. I didn’t do anything different. What happened? I thought I finally figured out what happened. Every single politician that I have voted for had either sponsored, co-sponsored, or voted for a law and/or constitutional amendment that would strip me of my rights solely for being a registered sex offender by which they demanded that I be in the first place. because of my 1981 crime. Low and behold, what made me really come to my senses is when I figured out that every single politician that I didn’t vote for, did the exact same thing. Sorry to say, but the only right I have left, is the right to vote, and it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    4. AvatarJohn W.

      After reading this, I realized how negative I am. I didn’t mean to be that way. I was only trying to point out, as a registered sex offender, that I am personally at a complete loss of what side of the aisle to be on.

    5. AvatarRobin

      I feel the same way. I have lost my taste for political labels. I cringe when I hear “liberal” or “conservative” because the terms mean absolutely nothing to me anymore. And I’ve grown weary of the American voter’s capacity to fall for the same trickery over and over again. “Let’s elect candidate [fill in blank]! He/She’s going to make things change” Blah Blah Blah. And nothing really ever changes for anyone, in my estimation. So I’m not certain there are any sides to the aisle anymore. From my viewpoint, either party will walk all over SOs and their families to win votes. They really couldn’t care any less about our problems. Our governments have become tools to cram ideological beliefs down our necks and what’s good for the whole is whatever 51% of the people will go along with. That’s pretty scary to me.

    6. AvatarJR

      @John W,

      It is difficult to come to the realization you present. I am sorry for this situation for you (and all of us on the registry). Perhaps you and Robin, with your intimate experience in the political process, can work together to change these things?

      I am curious, with your experience, what are your thoughts on the fact that many of us pay taxes (property especially) on property we are banished from by residency restrictions?

    7. AvatarJohn W

      Hey JR!
      I wish I knew the answer to that question, but I find trying to reason with it only sends my head into circular arguments. I’m not an attorney and I never studied laws, but I am a reasonable thinking person.
      The only logical thing I can thing of is that someone has written a logical list of logical fallacies, and all the illogical thinkers believe them to be logical truths. That like two drunks sitting in a bar, where drunk #1 is telling of his sexual endeavors to drunk #2, knowing that they are all made up lies, but yet he believes every sexual endeavor that drunk #2 tells him. And they sit there, drinking and one-upping each other until drunks #3 thru drunks #99 vote on who got the best story and then, the logical fallacies are born.
      I wanted to write a synopsis on the last 20 years of my life showing what every new and/or added change to the laws which impacted my life or the life of my family. I thought it would be a revealing graphic. Turns out that I had an entire page of dates with my obligation changes and I only looked a the residency restrictions.
      I didn’t even bother looking at the travel restrictions, internet and social web sites, hunting gun laws, jury duty, going to a park or swimming pool, my grandchildren’a school, not being in my home more than 3 nights within 1 year of time, or even the things I can or cannot do on Oct. 31st of every year. Those rules as well as the penalty, also change frequently. I can go on and on. There is no synopsis. That’s a novel!

  4. AvatarStephen

    For those of you in Virginia let it be known that when McDonnell was governor, he honored the voting rights of those that were restored in other states. The first time I tried to register to vote, I received a letter saying they would press charges against me if I ever tried again. But McDonnell changed all that. I now vote in every Election.
    I work for a company that deals with Election campaigns and knew the feeling of being left out. I may of met you Robin.

    1. AvatarRobin

      Congrats, Stephen. Bob shocked a lot of people when he went to the left on voting rights. Didn’t shock me because it was my idea, although I doubt seriously Bob would ever fess up to that. haha.

  5. AvatarRay

    I can agree that voting rights restored are rendered useless if the state government operates to remove the significance or intrinsic worthiness of registrants otherwise legally blessed right. To go further most states include clauses that resists the restoration of the right to bear arms in regard to cases that involve no violent predation or element in the commission of a crime. We see that they, (state governments) skirt closely with guardrails of the constitution just to befit the intent of their popular politics. Systematically the states monitor each other to piecemeal their logic of legislation. If one politician would boldly stand and lament the way these laws and remedies all cultured, he or she in effect would be accusing a party of their peers to exacting corruption. Any sensible patriot would courier and carry the scroll to expose these particular oligarchs from a time ago when countrymen wouldn’t want this type of government. But now we the people passively accept this gesturing daily at every level of office complicitly natured and perpetually practice. … A nation running to ruins.

  6. AvatarMaestro

    As we fight to end the SOR Units of our states, we should also be fighting to end the probation departments across the country.

    A probation officer’s job is – simply put – a waste of tax payers’ money.

    P.O.’s and their high on authority supervisors treat the client as if the crime happened 5 mins ago. Even when you’ve been on it for a few years and it’s nearing its end, they make sure you’re not doing ANYTHING that any other law abiding, tax paying citizen can do LEGALLY. Owning a computer, traveling, having a drink with coworkers at a company Christmas party, having contact with those damn minors that like to walk all around you in the line at a Walgreens as if you’re compelling them to be near you.

    I’ve pissed probation off several times with the argument that they can never answer with ANY type of logic:

    “When my probation is over, I’m still the same guy who had an affair with a minor which was deemed CONSUNSUAL by the court who convicted me, so what difference does it make if I own a computer NOW, or if I get one AFTER my probation is over and I laugh in your face about it?”

    They cannot answer that question with LOGIC. Only with their brainwashed training that they follow with pride to say some outlandish nonsense (and this is how backwards they are) such as “Well suppose you were to chat with someone online in a messaging board about aviation and that person turned out to be a minor and makes a complaint against you? Even if it’s untrue, who do you think the court is going to believe?”

    Probation amounts to nothing but a paycheck for these baffoons. I know of people who diliberately took MORE time in prison to have probation taken OUT of the plea bargain. I know people who diliberately VIOLATED probation and went back to prison (and not even close to the amount of hang time they were given) just to get probation withdrawn upon their release.
    If these things can be done, as well as hiring an attorney at your probation period’s half-way point to get it satisfied, that is MORE than enough reason to argue that probation is NOT helpful to ANYONE (client, victim or society). I would rather be subjected to a lifetime on the registry than to have to get permission from a power hungry buffoon to do every day normal life activities.

    We should start a petition against the probation departments. These are more of the reason for joblessness and homelessness than the SOR itself. Probation made ME homeless for 3 months and my P.O. shrugged his shoulders at me when I told him it’s not fun and there’s no reason for me to have been made homeless!! Enough is enough of this USELESS “career”.

    Thank you

    1. AvatarTara

      Maestro, I agree with you all too well. But not just probation. I feel parole is the same way. Depending on who you get, shows how understanding and credible they are. My parole is lifetime. I am on that ankle mpnitor for life. And they have me on SOTP for the third time. The others say, wow, your good at this. I said, yeah well this is my third time in this class. Each and everytime, I take notes. Notes that are repeated, that I have written down previous times. But its the little things that they take away from us. And as a woman, its hard being on an ankle monitor. I can’t dress up like a woman. And shaving irritates me. Its like they didnt even have women in mind when they made this!

  7. As far as voting rights goes and the issue we all face on here I believe Robin is Right of course everything has its ups and downs. Before I got involved in my encounter with the registry I had already lost my right to vote. Third time drunk driving. Of course that’s been many years ago.

    Today It is one of one’s fundamental rights that we should be given liberty to vote but that is only if one decides to vote. Remember we are still “We the people” no matter what and we are a nation under God. I think one could think Thomas Jefferson for that or are the bill of rights no use today.

    I do not want to get started on the Ministers of Satan today as that is for the Preachers Pulpit but I will just say that those that are caught up in all this light or heavy sex offense thing should have the right to vote or voice their opinions.

    I am inclined to agree with J. P. up there. I would really rather agree with Smokey the bear on a lot of this stuff with all these affairs today. And ole Smoky said that “Only you can Prevent” forest fires…….(.I wonder what was really meant by forest fires.)

Comments are closed.