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January 18, 2012

"Poll: Should felons be allowed to vote after serving their sentences?"

The title of this post is the headline that fronts this new CNN piece reviewing the debate that arose between GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.  Before getting to the poll, the CNN piece provides this background:

Twenty-three states have eased felon voting restrictions since 1997, but in 2011, Florida and Iowa tightened them. Maine and Vermont are the only states with no disenfranchisement for people with criminal convictions.

“It’s really the first time in a while we have seen significant opposition against restoring rights,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based organization that works for criminal justice reform and advocates for voting rights.

Felony disenfranchisement laws date back to the founding of the United States, when legislation restricted people with criminal convictions from voting. Today, laws vary from state to state, but in Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia and Florida, people with a felony conviction are permanently barred from voting, although the right can be restored through a pardon or a rights restoration process.

States' decisions about who is eligible to vote can have national implications. In the 2000 election, Florida was decided by just 537 votes. In that state, almost 950,000 people are disenfranchised because of felony convictions.

And in a nation where every vote counts, disenfranchisement disproportionately affects black voters. Nationally, 5.3 million people are disenfranchised because of felony convictions and about 38% are African-American, according to Sentencing Project. African-Americans make up only 12.6% of the U.S. population. The American Civil Liberties Union said the largest share of disenfranchised voters is in Florida, where nearly one out of every five black men overall is ineligible to vote.

Mauer said voting rights and limitations have historically been tied to race. “At the same time states were adopting poll taxes, they were also tailoring disenfranchisement laws with the intent of disenfranchising black male voters,” he said, adding that disenfranchisement was tied to certain crimes people then believed black men were more likely to commit....

But Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank devoted to issues of race, said it’s a matter of criminal justice, not race. It shouldn’t be a topic of discussion at a national level, but should remain a state issue, he said.

“I think that (Santorum) is wrong to want to favor automatic restoration of voting rights to people just because they have served their sentence,” he said. “Reason one being if you don’t follow the law, you don’t have the right to make the law, and when you vote that’s what you’re doing. You’re always making it, at least indirectly, because you are choosing lawmakers.”

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Comments

Does Clegg feel that way about speeding drivers?

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jan 18, 2012 4:55:46 PM

TBIT:

Or voters who have been publicaly indoctrinated, I mean er, educated all of their lives.

Posted by: albeed | Jan 18, 2012 10:20:01 PM

We are now in the middle of a political season when all of our television programing, news print and conversation is heavily tainted or informed by the political process.
This is all intended to help citizens be informed about the candidates who would like to have control over many aspects of our lives.

Nine million citizens have no investment in this process. Would it be more sensible for the culture to have all citizens feel this connection to their government?

Posted by: beth | Jan 19, 2012 3:17:51 PM

The civil consequence should be related to the crime charged, not to the fictitious pled crime. So a person charged with voter fraud should not be allowed to vote. Someone who shoplifted should.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 20, 2012 9:12:01 AM

Of course felons should get the right to vote back. There's no defensible policy for stripping felons of their right to vote. Maine and Vermont allow incarcerated felons to vote via absentee ballot, and so institutional security isn't even an issue.

This purity of the ballot box argument is a vestigial argument held over from when felony disenfranchisement was used to prevent the newly-freed slaves from having access to the ballot box. We don't impose morality or intelligence testing on the general public before they can vote, and so the only way that disenfranchisement can really be properly conceptualized is as a form of punishment.

So if we want to call it a punishment, that's fine, but then doesn't that mean it should end once the sentence is served? Or are we just going to enter an era of perpetual punishment in American Criminal justice? Or, perhaps we have already.

Posted by: Guy | Jan 20, 2012 6:46:42 PM

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