I don’t know exactly why, but lately I’ve been thinking about a TV show that I used to watch. If you know me very well, you know this automatically dates the TV show at least 10 years. In this case, it is closer to 20, but not quite. I believe I was in high school when I watched it. Northern Exposure? Anyone remember that show?

What I liked most about the show was Chris, the radio dj, philosopher, ex-con. It seemed to me that only in a place like whereverthatwas, Alaska would an ex-con be listened to, as someone who had something to say, even if (as I learned on the show) he was no longer allowed to participate in the workings of this country.

People who have been convicted of felonies (and sometimes people who have been dishonorably discharged from the military; depends on the state) are not allowed to vote. This is called disenfranchisement, and it is not limited to people who have been convicted of felonies. It is anyone who is not allowed to vote, whether intentionally (laws) or unintentionally. Well, to me the “unintentionally” requires a bit of trust in humankind, which I’m lacking, so I think of it as not allowing people to vote through intimidation or indirectly through the result of certain kinds of laws. (Some argue, for example, that getting rid of the electoral college and going to a participatory democracy rather than representative would leave people in less densely populated areas with less of a voice, a form of disenfranchisement, though they would legally retain the right and ability to vote.) I’ve heard the term used more casually as well; perhaps the dismal state of politics leads to apathy, which could be considered its own form of disenfranchisement.

For some reason this is fascinating me right now. Read up on it at the Wiki for more information and sources, but some of the highlights that caught my attention:

Voters in the District of Columbia, the U.S. capital, are subject to a partial disfranchisement: they are not represented in Congress. Until the passage of the Twenty-Third Amendment in 1961, they did not get to vote in presidential elections. Prior to the District of Columbia Home Rule Act in 1973, they did not elect their own mayor.

[Deb’s exclamation: they didn’t elect their own mayor until 1973?!! Then again, Lichtenstein didn’t give women the right to vote until 1984 and Switzerland in 1971.]

An example of unintentional disfranchisement of a group of people is expounded by supporters of the U.S. Electoral College. Briefly, electoral college supporters feel that strict majority vote would disfranchise the mostly rural American West, by denying them the ability to ever influence an election due to their small numbers. This would be unintentional disfranchisement as it is an effect of the change, not a direct goal of the change in voting law.

Another example is the disfranchisement of entire groups of people, such as fathers, women, unmarried or non-custodial parents, various racial, ethnic or religious minorities depending on the country, or members of some political groups. This has led to warfare, as in the case of the American Revolutionary War (the cry “No taxation without representation” conveys this message). This is a good example of the intentional disfranchisement of a group of people (British colonists in America) by the government in Britain. Similarly, the US citizens of Puerto Rico are subjected to many U.S. laws and in the past, have been conscripted to fight in US wars, but they have no Congressional representation or vote in presidential elections. Puerto Rico residents are subject to most U.S. taxes but are generally not subject to U.S. income tax laws unless they work for the U.S. Government or fall under various other exceptions.

Minors under the voting age are also disenfranchised. While this is supported by the idea that minors lack the capacity to cast an independent vote, minors are almost always subject to taxation by state and federal governments.

(That all came from the Wiki.)

I live in the DC metro area, and one thing that becomes a very common site is the license-plates-as-activism, the vast majority of the DC plates proclaiming “Taxation Without Representation” echoing the rallying cry of the American Revolution. Amazingly (or not so much, depending on your perspective) there is a lot of resistance to giving people in DC representation. I’ve heard things like, “they can vote for the president, that’s their representation,” which shows quite a bit of ignorance as to what our representatives are meant to do for us. Regardless, Bush can’t be considered the chosen representative of the bluest area of the country! I’m frankly amazed that anyone would resist giving a population of people representation in the government. If you want to learn more, DC Vote has a lot of info, including things you can do. After all, those of us with representation in the government (i.e., living in states and commonwealths other than D.C.) are the ones who have to urge our representatives to give the folks of DC the vote. The folks of DC don’t get a vote on whether they get a vote!

But then consider Puerto Rico, with even less say in the government, as in NONE, and yet they can be conscripted to wars that “our” government decides to wage, and they also have to pay taxes. Just not income taxes. If I were living in PR, I’d be making it a point to only buy used goods, assuming that used goods had no tax. Is that true?

As far as disenfranchisement while serving sentances goes, the UK has a blanket ban, while other countries (including places we don’t think of as especially concerned with human rights issues, such as China) generally allow convicts to vote, unless disenfranchisement is part of their sentence, generally reserved for crimes against the state. (Which leaves an awful lot of room.)

And while there are a few states in the U.S. that allow convicts to vote, there are also a number of states that ban ex-cons from voting forevermore. According to Wiki, there are 10 states that permanently remove voting rights from people convicted of felonies, and you can check out a grid of all the states and their rules here: State Felon Disenfranchisement.

This brings me back to Northern Exposure, and Chris. Current laws state that in Alaska, you are allowed to vote again once you’ve completed your sentence and any probation time that you might have on top of actual incarceration. So it is probable that my memories of Chris’ musings are a bit murky after all this time, and that he was on probation, but would be allowed to vote at some future time.

Regardless, the Wiki agrees with the rest of my recollections of Chris:

Chris is perhaps Cicely‘s most poetic soul, given to reading Walt Whitman, Carl Jung, and Maurice Sendak on the air. Studying philosophy has given him a generally calm demeanor, but he has his limits. His boss, Maurice Minnifield tried adopting him with disastrous results when Maurice became a little too controlling; after one particularly frustrating afternoon with Maurice, Chris politely told his boss to shove it and stormed off to get a drink.

Chris is also Cicely‘s only clergyman, ordained in the “Worldwide Church of Truth and Beauty” when he answered an advertisement in Rolling Stone; as such he once took Shelly Tambo‘s confession, divorced her from her high school sweetheart and married her to Holling Vincoeur, as well as marrying Adam and Eve.

Chris is self-taught in physics, which he loves to discuss. In the episode, “The Graduate,” Chris completes his correspondence course in English literature by defending his Master’s thesis.

I’d completely missed the “Worldwide Church of Truth and Beauty” part of his persona, though I recognize the church under it’s more common name of the Universal Life Church. I joined a friend’s congregation in college, amused by his $5 minister certificate. “For $10 I could have been a pope!”my college friend was fond of saying. I do remember Chris’ many discussions on physics though, and how much it impressed me!

the black sheep at ps