« "Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use" | Main | Georgia pardon board rejects capital clemency for mentally disabled murderer »

July 16, 2012

New York Times editorial laments increases in "Disenfranchised Felons"

Providing a fitting follow-up to a recent report by The Sentencing Project (blogged here), today the New York Times has this new editorial complaining about the continued growth of "Americans who cannot vote because they have been convicted of a felony."  Here are excerpts:

The Sentencing Project reported Thursday that in 2010 5.5 million voting-age citizens were disenfranchised because of their criminal records, up by 9 percent from 2004.

About a quarter are in prison, but the rest have completed their sentences or are on probation or parole.  The only reason not to let them vote is to stigmatize them or to continue punishing them.  Only Maine and Vermont impose no voting restrictions on felons or ex-felons. The other states impose various restrictions, with 11 states (six in the South) banning ex-felons from voting even after they have completed prison and probation or parole.

These limits are seriously counterproductive.  Former offenders who are allowed to vote are less likely to return to prison and more likely to become reintegrated into their communities. Public opinion and efforts by some states to restore voting rights to ex-felons in some circumstances reflect that view.  But because the justice system locks up so many people every year, many more people lose their voting rights than benefit from the state efforts.

The disproportionate number of blacks among the disenfranchised remains a huge racial justice problem.  Almost 7.7 percent of blacks of voting age are disenfranchised because of their criminal records, compared with less than 2 percent for non-blacks.  This stripping of black voting rights is linked to their disproportionate number in the criminal system — blacks make up 38.2 percent of the prison population, though they account for only 12.6 percent of the general population.

Recent related post:

July 16, 2012 at 04:55 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20167688a5fc7970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New York Times editorial laments increases in "Disenfranchised Felons":

Comments

And if anyone has a coherent rationale for why felony disenfranchisement is actually a good thing, I'd love to hear it.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 16, 2012 9:08:12 AM

Similar reason to why a convict loses his right to live freely, or a convicted murderer loses his right to live, or your son or daughter loses the right to borrow your car, because wise stewards restrict the behavior of bad actors to various degrees.

“The consequences of an act affect the probability of it's occurring again.” (Skinner)

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 16, 2012 11:17:08 AM

Choosing one's leaders is a fundamental right in any democracy; however, freedom from criminal felons is inestimably paramount.

States may constitutionally punish felons with as many restrictions on voting as they see fit. If you do not like your state's restrictions, Guy Noir, convince your fellow buckeyes or cornhuskers, or sooners!

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 16, 2012 11:30:20 AM

Adamakis --

You assert that it is a punishment, yet courts have continually refused to regard it as a punishment. If we want to treat it as a punishment, fine. Great, even -- then at least it would be subject to the requirements of the Eighth Amendment.

Also, there is exactly zero data to suggest that felony disenfranchisement is in any way a deterrent to criminal activity. Hell, Maine and Vermont have no disenfranchisement whatsoever (voting in prison is accomplished by use of absentee ballots) and yet their streets aren't running red with blood.

Finally, if it is a punishment, as you suggest, then what about the notion that punishments should be proportional, and tied to the crime itself? Disenfranchisement, when practiced in other first-world democracies (if practiced at all) is done in response to the nature of the offense (e.g. election-related offenses) and it's for life, as is frequently done in the states.

But, as I stated, courts don't regard disenfranchisement as a punishment (even despite Congress' passage of the 14th with the admonition that disenfranchisement *only* be done as a punishment for an offense, not in view of state's ability to restrict the franchise).

So...got anything else?

Posted by: Guy | Jul 16, 2012 1:52:17 PM

A murderer who snuffs out his victim's vote gets to vote? Odd.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 16, 2012 3:15:12 PM

Right, because only murderers are felons.

Posted by: centrist | Jul 16, 2012 10:24:08 PM

I suppose I may have taken the lazy-way out in relying on democratic support and constitutionalism.

One must assert rectitude upon more than simple popularity or might, but on truth, so here goes.

Why is felon disenfranchisement "a good thing"?
@-- prevents one who has severely broken the laws of society from making them
@-- punishes the felon with denial of the fruits of law-abiding (good) citizenship
@-- deters others who see the consequence of a felonious crime
@-- deters repeat offending by felon due to the denial
@-- reassures the victim that his/her suffering was meaningful to society
@-- upholds the seriousness of the felony category, as a class of egregious offences

What do I believe?
I support felon disenfranchisement of murderers, rapists, and for many other felonies. [I've yet to peruse the entire list].

In comparing the states, I reckon that I most agree with the law of *Florida*,
whereby convicted felons must be crime-free for at least five years, or seven for some violent felonies, before their submitted clemency petitions will be considered.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 17, 2012 6:07:08 PM

"courts don't regard disenfranchisement as a punishment"~~Guy

Perhaps Chief Justice Roberts would construe it a tax?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 17, 2012 6:08:59 PM

"prevents one who has severely broken the laws of society from making them"

So...I'm not really sure what you're saying. You're saying that felons would then run for office and draft legislation decriminalizing drugs and violent offenses? Or are you saying that there would then be politicians who ran on a soft-on-crime platform to attract the felon vote?

Either way, that rationale is unconstitutional as hell. Cf Carrington v Rash.


"punishes the felon with denial of the fruits of law-abiding (good) citizenship"

Again, courts don't see it as punishment. If we want it to be a punishment, then great, but then we have to start talking about things like proportionality, 8th amendment, etc. Also, we'd need to talk about it ending at some point. For example, once someone has "served their time" -- isn't it supposed to be the goal to *return* them to law-abiding (good) citizenship, or is it the goal to keep them in a criminal underclass?

"deters others who see the consequence of a felonious crime"

For reals? Can you think of an example of someone who *wouldn't* be deterred by a lengthy prison term but *would* be deterred at the prospect of losing their right to vote?

"deters repeat offending by felon due to the denial"

Wha? How does that serve as a deterrent, exactly? Please, I'd really like to hear this. For one thing, it's a static punishment -- it stays the same irrespective of whether the person goes and commits another felony, so I'm really not clear on how it cuts down on recidivism. Also, in a forthcoming law review, there's evidence to suggest the exact opposite -- that permanent disenfranchisement encourages rates of repeat offenses.

"reassures the victim that his/her suffering was meaningful to society"

Again, wha? First, you're assuming that (a) there was a victim -- as there are a great, great number of felony offenses one might correctly characterized as being victimless, or where society is the victim -- and that (b) they suffered (and, as a subsidiary that (c) they need reassuring that their suffering was meaningful to society and (d) that, somehow, denying someone the right to vote after they've served out meets that end).

"upholds the seriousness of the felony category, as a class of egregious offences"

I thought that's what prison terms were for. Also, it's not *necessarily* an egregious class of offense. I mean, it's supposed to be, but so so so many things are felonies nowadays that it's not too tough for sympathetic defendants to get swept up under the ambit of felony provisions.

So....got anything else?

Posted by: Guy | Jul 18, 2012 12:15:39 AM

and, fwiw, I agree with you that even if we're going to have disenfranchisement, there ought to be a path back to productive, full citizenship.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 18, 2012 12:19:42 AM

GUY:
"Individuals who have shown they are unwilling to follow the law cannot claim the right to make
laws for the rest of us. We don't let everyone vote, not * children, for instance, or * noncitizens,
or the * mentally incompetent.

We have certain minimum standards of trustworthiness before we let people participate in the
serious business of self-government, and people who commit serious crimes don't meet
those standards."~~Roger Clegg

"Mentally incompetent" may be the most apt, if limited analogy, no? Hence the need for years to prove law-abiding competence, prison time not included.

So Guy, yes, I prefer felon disenfranchisement in my state to be tailored to the gravity of offense, and to have a path for clemency (like FL).

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 18, 2012 10:41:27 AM

Guy,
3 more musings:
1/ "[W]e should expect people to uphold at least some minimum moral standards in order to keep it -- such as refraining from violating their fellow voters' own inalienable rights."~~Edward Feser

{Especially relevant to the punishing aspect and fruits of law-abiding (good) citizenship.}

2/ / As you alluded to with felons who "run for office...politicians...attract the felon vote", one editor put it as so:

"Do we want our politicians pandering for the votes of felons? Or making government policy designed to win their votes and serve those constituents? Do we want America to become a felonocracy?"

3/ / / "The revolving-door effect of restoring felons' rights only then to revoke them
due to a new criminal offense
would diminish the integrity of our democratic government and the rule of law.
According to the FL Dept. of Corrections, nearly 40% of offenders commit another
crime within three years of release and 45 percent do so within five years...

Rather than automatically restore rights to violent repeat offenders...for Florida's
serious career criminals, this motto ought to apply: A person who breaks the law
should not make the law."~~Bill McCollum

Felon Disenfranchisement = sound justice and solid public policy.

I admit that my evidentiary grounds for the * deterrence effect are weak at this time.
Also, much to my discredit, I have not read Carrington v Rash on constitutionality. Give me a spell.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 18, 2012 10:46:38 AM

Except that, with people who are mentally incompetent, we don't apply disenfranchisement with a broad brush. The disenfranchisement is individually tailored to the facts of the case, not the title of the statute under which someone was charged without regard to what their specific facts were. Indeed, the status of someone as a felon, or as an ex-felon, perhaps years apart from their incarceration, tells us exactly nothing about who they are *today* though it may tell us something what what the worst thing that they have ever done is -- so I think your analogy to people who are mentally incompetent misses the mark.

" "[W]e should expect people to uphold at least some minimum moral standards in order to keep it -- such as refraining from violating their fellow voters' own inalienable rights."~~Edward Feser

{Especially relevant to the punishing aspect and fruits of law-abiding (good) citizenship.}"

Again, isn't the point to return people to law-abiding (good) citizenship, not to create a criminal underclass? And, again, if we want to treat it as a punishment for a crime, wunderbar, let's do that, because then we get to talk about all sorts of things like proportionality and Eighth Amendment.

""Do we want our politicians pandering for the votes of felons? Or making government policy designed to win their votes and serve those constituents? Do we want America to become a felonocracy?""

In Maine and Vermont, where exactly no felony disenfranchisement is practiced, I would like you to please provide me with examples of politicians who are "pandering for the votes of felons" and "making government policy designed to win the votes and serve those constituents." I shant hold my breath.

And again, as I pointed out, excluding people from the polls based upon who they might vote for is unconstitutional (and bonus points for being shockingly undemocratic as well).

""The revolving-door effect of restoring felons' rights only then to revoke them
due to a new criminal offense
would diminish the integrity of our democratic government and the rule of law.
According to the FL Dept. of Corrections, nearly 40% of offenders commit another
crime within three years of release and 45 percent do so within five years...

Rather than automatically restore rights to violent repeat offenders...for Florida's
serious career criminals, this motto ought to apply: A person who breaks the law
should not make the law."~~Bill McCollum"

Huh? I have no idea what the first paragraph means. How exactly would that "diminish the integrity of our democractic government and rule of law"? Are Maine and Vermont running over with blood from their felon warlords who have stormed the government?

Oh wait, you mean Maine and Vermont have some of the lowest crime rates in the country? How can that be if disenfranchisement is such an effective crime fighting tool?

I know! It's because felons have stormed the state government and have re-written the laws to do away with all crimes, that's why the crime rates are so low: because there are no crimes in Maine and Vermont anymore! Of course!

"Felon Disenfranchisement = sound justice and solid public policy.

I admit that my evidentiary grounds for the * deterrence effect are weak at this time.
Also, much to my discredit, I have not read Carrington v Rash on constitutionality. Give me a spell."

If by weak you mean not in existence, then sure. I mean, if you can actually point me to a single piece of evidence that shows disenfranchisement has any positive deterrent effect on recidivism other than politicians blathering incoherently, I would be most amazed to see that.


Posted by: Guy | Jul 18, 2012 1:23:17 PM

I believe that disenfranchisement of felons (when not motivated by any number of bad motivations) is, for many, the only logical policy choice resulting from what it means to be a citizen.

Many people don't believe that green card holders (including the ones who have been productive members of society for many years and who have never broken a law and who could be citizens if they so choose) should not be able to vote. The basis for this belief is the deeply-held belief that citizenship involves the voluntary joining of political society. The green card holder, by his actions, has kept himself out of the political society, so he should not be able to vote in that political society. Similarly, if a citizen renounces his citizenship, many people believe that that person should not be able to vote. The renouncer has placed himself out of political society, so he should not be able to vote in that political society. To many, a felon, like the renouncer, has placed himself, by his actions, outside of political society.

This way of thinking, is, obviously, not utilitarian-based reasoning. It is fundamental-precepts based (or "values-based") thinking. Issues of punishment, deterrence, the likelihood that "bad" laws will be written or avoided, etc., are completely divorced from this way of thinking.

Posted by: Mark Pickrell | Jul 18, 2012 5:18:07 PM

Mark,

I know that disenfranchisement stems from colonial views of civil death, which were borrowed from England, which were in turn evolved from medieval practices of outlawry, which were themselves remnants of Roman and Greek practices of atimia. In other words, it's certainly not new (though the most recent evolution of modern disenfranchisement came from the Jim Crow-era laws and was the favored method of disenfranchising the newly-freed slaves in Reconstruction America, but no matter...)

I get that, at heart, the rationale is one of citizenship and tradition. The the philosophical concepts of status citizenship, the social contract, etc inform the underlying basis for disenfranchisement -- I get that. What I would point out, however, is that now our political values are much different from those of our ancestors. We value freedom, and things like universal suffrage. Also our citizenship rights are no longer defined in terms of action and status, but by birth and blood.

But is that what we really want then? Is that the desired outcome? To create a class of "outlaws"? People who are no longer afforded the benefits of citizenship? If they are no longer afforded the benefits of the law, to what extent does that impact their obligation to be faithful to it? In other words, if the social contract is broken, and society says it will never be renewed, then what impact would that have on the individual in holding up their end of the bargain?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I understand the philosophical tradition of disenfranchisement, but the philosophy of it comes from an era that did not value democratic ideals -- so why should we think that such thinking is noble, or even useful?

Posted by: Guy | Jul 18, 2012 5:41:20 PM

your version of "democratic ideals" {Guy}

|| Oh wait, you mean Maine and Vermont have some of the lowest crime rates in the country? How can that be if disenfranchisement is such an effective crime fighting tool? ||

Disenfranchisement is not an inherently potent crime fighting tool, but your argument cannot seriously be causal, one would hope.

If you would like to play the association game, check minority population rates in some of your preferred states, and advocate consistently.

Moreover, your ilk have comprehensively failed to persuade the " " democratic" " public of the right of in-prison or automatic voting rights for felons, so unless you favour a dictatorial rule of the people over a republican one, sharpen your arguments and seek elective solutions.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 19, 2012 8:34:56 AM

Guy,

Thanks for engaging. I think your posts are interesting.

I question your belief that "our political values are much different from those of our ancestors." I think many people have political values that are quite similar to those of our ancestors.

And, to answer your questions (from the perspective of those who believe felons should not be allowed to vote):

1. Yes, that's what they want. (Although what they really want is for no one to break the law in the first place.)
2. Yes, that's their desired outcome. (Although their true desired outcome is for no one to break the law in the first place.)
3. I don't know what you mean by a "class of 'outlaws'." If you mean there is a category of people, whom you call outlaws, who are called felons and who aren't allowed to vote, the answer is yes.
4. Felons are allowed some of the benefits of citizenship (such as freedom to travel). They are denied the benefit of voting, as well as other benefits of citizenship (such as the right to possess a firearm).
5. Felons are still expected to follow the law. Like everyone else, if they break the law they may be punished.
6. The felon has already not held up his end of the social contract. That's what makes him a felon in the first place. One consequence of a decision to break a law that prescribes possible imprisonment for a year is that the offender may be denied the ability to vote. That's the bargain.

Your initial comment seemed to indicate that you simply did not understand the basis of the view that felons should not be entitled to vote. It is obvious from your response to my post that you do understand the basis of this view. You just disagree with people who think this way, and you can't understand that many people still think this way. Trust me, they do think this way, and they do disagree with you. Their numbers are in the millions.

Be glad, though, that most Americans probably agree with you.

Posted by: Mark Pickrell | Jul 19, 2012 1:58:26 PM

"If you would like to play the association game, check minority population rates in some of your preferred states, and advocate consistently."

I'm not trying to suggest that there's a 1:1 ratio of disenfranchisement to crime control, nor does the data that I am familiar with suggest that. My statement was more of hyperbole in response to your fantastic suggestion that disenfranchisement somehow reduces crime -- again, if you have any such evidence, I'd be amazed to see it.

"your version of "democratic ideals""

Again, universal suffrage, citizenship rights by birth not by merit, these aren't "my version" of anything.

"Moreover, your ilk have comprehensively failed to persuade the " " democratic" " public of the right of in-prison or automatic voting rights for felons, so unless you favour a dictatorial rule of the people over a republican one, sharpen your arguments and seek elective solutions."

I didn't know I had ilk, but hey, always nice to have company. Most people actually think that rights should be restored post-release, does that mean I should go to my state legislature with the latest Gallup poll and say let my people go? No, I have to petition the legislature to change the law, which I've worked to try to do but it's difficult in an era where any motion made my a sitting state representative could possibly potentially be perceived as being not-as-tough-as-is-humanly-possible-on-criminals, thereby costing them votes.

So I guess, in the meantime, I guess you'll be content in the knowledge that as far as democratic freedoms go we're on par with a sizable number of third-world nations? Sweet. How's them democratic ideals treatin' ya?

Posted by: Guy | Jul 19, 2012 4:42:54 PM

Thanks for engaging. I think your posts are interesting.

Well I've been called worse things than interesting, so thanks!

I question your belief that "our political values are much different from those of our ancestors." I think many people have political values that are quite similar to those of our ancestors.

Our ancestors didn't let a whole hell of a lot of people vote for a whole lot of different reasons, most recently african-americans and women. How swimmingly do you think it would go over today, in modern times, if we tried to disenfranchise women and minorities from the polls (well, we do still try to disenfranchise minorities from the polls -- we just call it felony disenfranchisement)? Probably not too well. And that's just a shift in the modern era, not to think about the difference between that and, say, Rome.

And, to answer your questions (from the perspective of those who believe felons should not be allowed to vote):

1. Yes, that's what they want. (Although what they really want is for no one to break the law in the first place.)
2. Yes, that's their desired outcome. (Although their true desired outcome is for no one to break the law in the first place.)
3. I don't know what you mean by a "class of 'outlaws'." If you mean there is a category of people, whom you call outlaws, who are called felons and who aren't allowed to vote, the answer is yes.

Outlaws is a term borrowed from medieval Germany, who practice outlawry -- basically making people live in the woods as animals would. They weren't bound by society's laws, but weren't obligated to follow them, either.

4. Felons are allowed some of the benefits of citizenship (such as freedom to travel). They are denied the benefit of voting, as well as other benefits of citizenship (such as the right to possess a firearm).

Right -- I know that felons are already a second-class of citizenship, functionally speaking. At least, for example, there is a coherent rationale for why felons can't possess firearms (ignoring for the moment that a great number of felonies do not involve violence or guns), I'm still having trouble understanding what the benefit for society is by denying felons the right to vote.

5. Felons are still expected to follow the law. Like everyone else, if they break the law they may be punished.

Sure, I know that's true. What I'm trying to get at is more the psychological impact that it has, and if that outcome is really what we want, and is really outweighing any supposed benefit that disenfranchisement provides. For example, if there's a chance, even a remote one that disenfranchisement increases crime, why should we do it if there's no coherent benefit to the policy?

6. The felon has already not held up his end of the social contract. That's what makes him a felon in the first place. One consequence of a decision to break a law that prescribes possible imprisonment for a year is that the offender may be denied the ability to vote. That's the bargain.

Right, but that treats it as a punishment -- and punishments are required to follow certain rules under the constitution. Point being, do we want to the felon to start following the rules after release, or do we want to never extend to them the benefits of the social contract again?

Your initial comment seemed to indicate that you simply did not understand the basis of the view that felons should not be entitled to vote. It is obvious from your response to my post that you do understand the basis of this view. You just disagree with people who think this way, and you can't understand that many people still think this way. Trust me, they do think this way, and they do disagree with you. Their numbers are in the millions.

Be glad, though, that most Americans probably agree with you.

No I understand, it's just not a coherent view in view of modern democractic polity -- its roots are stuck in the middle ages, is practiced in America as an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws used to subjugate the newly-freed slaves, and is also not significantly practiced in other first-world democracies, making America #1 yet again.

What I'm not asking for is why do people think this way, I get why. They're felons, so fuck 'em. That's been the clarion call for the last thirty years. What I'm really asking for is, in light of even the possibility that it creates a very real harm to society, what benefit is gained? What, actual, tangible, societal benefit is gained from the practice of denying people the right to vote? Or is it just one of those things that we're very willing to cause more crime with so long as it sates our desire for neverending punishment for oftentimes relatively minor offenses? (cf. drug war)

And I'm still waiting for someone to explain that to me.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 19, 2012 4:59:30 PM

Guy,

You are asking for a utilitarian answer (costs vs. benefits) from people who do not think in those terms. To them, this is a value judgment. A definitional reality. It is not a function of screwing felons, harm or benefit to society, punishment, or retribution. They not only disagree with you about the policy, but they disagree with you about how to think about the policy.

Also, your history is a bit off. This view of citizenship is not a product of the "middle ages," but of the Enlightenment. Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France and all that. "A republic, if you can keep it" etc.

You say that felon disenfranchisement laws are "an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws," but, as a matter of historical fact, they were not. Long before African-Americans were released from slavery (much less allowed to vote), many states had felon disenfranchisement laws. Those laws were a result of American revolutionary republicanism and had nothing to do with American racism. You can argue (and many do) that racism is a motivating factor for keeping these laws (now or at some point in the past). That may be true. But it is certainly not the only motivating factor.

Do you really believe that certain felons engage in crime because they aren't allowed to vote? If so, what is the basis of your belief? Also, why did the fear of losing the vote not prevent the person from committing their first felony? How can someone care about the vote so much that it causes him to commit a crime, while at the same time the fear of losing the vote doesn't prevent that same person from committing a crime?

Posted by: Mark Pickrell | Jul 19, 2012 7:09:34 PM

horse pucky Mark!

"To them, this is a value judgment. A definitional reality. It is not a function of screwing felons, harm or benefit to society, punishment, or retribution."

That is EXACTLY what it is. the childlike behavior from a bunch of hate filled little twits that should be shoved into a locked room with one of those they wish to treat like ANIMALS for about 5 mins! When the room is opened IF they live i'd be willing to bet they have a whole new outlook on life!

as for this

"Also, your history is a bit off. This view of citizenship is not a product of the "middle ages," but of the Enlightenment. Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France and all that. "A republic, if you can keep it" etc.

You say that felon disenfranchisement laws are "an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws," but, as a matter of historical fact, they were not. Long before African-Americans were released from slavery (much less allowed to vote), many states had felon disenfranchisement laws."

You mean when we were still a CROWN colony! under a KING! no shit people werent' allowed to vote!

BUT we are a REPUBLIC....one PERSON one VOTE!

part of what MADE us a REPUBLIC was the ideal of one MAN one VOTE!

so to think you can now deny it to any citizen is TREASON!

Yes while a punishment is being administered rights need to be restricted ...but ONLY to the lvl needed to administer the punishment. ALL rights should be restored once said punishment is ENDED!

as for this major bit of stupdity!

"4. Felons are allowed some of the benefits of citizenship (such as freedom to travel). They are denied the benefit of voting, as well as other benefits of citizenship (such as the right to possess a firearm)."

up till the illegal laws passed after the 1960's JFK killing there was no such thing as a FIREARM restriction. So kind of nuts to think it's been here forever! The only firearm you might lose would be those USED in a crime. Anything else would have been returned to you on your release!


But i would really really urge you and the others whos' misguided minds think like this. learn the following! then LIVE IT otherwise very very soon it will no longer be YOUR choice. Becasue we are fast creating an underclass numbering MILLIONS who have no reason to play nice and EVERY reason to hate and dispise everything you stand for and dream of the day they can destroy it!


"What I'm not asking for is why do people think this way, I get why. They're felons, so fuck 'em. That's been the clarion call for the last thirty years. What I'm really asking for is, in light of even the possibility that it creates a very real harm to society, what benefit is gained? What, actual, tangible, societal benefit is gained from the practice of denying people the right to vote? Or is it just one of those things that we're very willing to cause more crime with so long as it sates our desire for neverending punishment for oftentimes relatively minor offenses? (cf. drug war)"

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 19, 2012 9:37:53 PM

"part of what MADE us a REPUBLIC was the ideal of one MAN one VOTE!"

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.
It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."~~John Adams, U.S. President, 1798

"part of what the FOUNDERS bequeathed to US was a CONSTITUTION for a MORAL and RELIGIOUS people!"

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 20, 2012 9:10:27 AM

LOL good one adamakis...unfortunately HE'S RIGHT! as our prsent mess shows1

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 20, 2012 10:47:04 AM

Mark:

You are asking for a utilitarian answer (costs vs. benefits) from people who do not think in those terms. To them, this is a value judgment. A definitional reality. It is not a function of screwing felons, harm or benefit to society, punishment, or retribution. They not only disagree with you about the policy, but they disagree with you about how to think about the policy.

That's a fancy way of dodging the question. If you don't have an answer, it's entirely acceptable to say "I am not aware of any positive social impact that disenfranchisement provides." If that's the case -- awesome, then I'm still waiting for someone to answer my question. We can disagree about whether we, as Americans, should deign to adopt social policies that put us more in line with every other first-world democracy on the planet, or if we're quite content to keep ranks with third-world, non-democratic regimes. In fact, we can argue all day about that and get nowhere.

Also, your history is a bit off. This view of citizenship is not a product of the "middle ages," but of the Enlightenment. Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France and all that. "A republic, if you can keep it" etc.

Nope. Rome and Greece practiced this citizenship in the form of atimia / dishonor, which served as the ancient genesis for where we're at today.

You say that felon disenfranchisement laws are "an outgrowth of Jim Crow laws," but, as a matter of historical fact, they were not. Long before African-Americans were released from slavery (much less allowed to vote), many states had felon disenfranchisement laws. Those laws were a result of American revolutionary republicanism and had nothing to do with American racism. You can argue (and many do) that racism is a motivating factor for keeping these laws (now or at some point in the past). That may be true. But it is certainly not the only motivating factor.

I understand that there were disenfranchisement provisions in colonial America, too, brought over from England. What I mean to say is that modern disenfranchisement provisions are an outgrowth of Jim Crow. Many of the disenfranchisement provisions that existed in America's infancy were not really disenfranchisement provisions at all, but were civil death provisions. They were broader than just talking about voting.

Statutes became tailored after the newly-freed slaves were admitted to the franchise to target blacks and keep them subjugated. A good example is seen in Hunter v. Underwood and Sec. 182 of the Alabama constitution.

Do you really believe that certain felons engage in crime because they aren't allowed to vote? If so, what is the basis of your belief? Also, why did the fear of losing the vote not prevent the person from committing their first felony? How can someone care about the vote so much that it causes him to commit a crime, while at the same time the fear of losing the vote doesn't prevent that same person from committing a crime?

What I believe is this: there is an association between disenfranchisement policy and recidivism such that states that practice permanent disenfranchisement experience a 10% higher rate of recidivism amongst its criminal offenders than those that restore the franchise post-release or do not practice disenfranchisement at all even while controlling for a host of variables known to influence recidivism. The basis for that belief is a forthcoming law review article that, to my knowledge, is the first of its kind.

That is not to say that there is a causal relationship -- to determine that would, essentially, be impossible. But the empirical data, coupled with a theoretical model for how disenfranchisement could influence recidivism, provides at least a straight-faced argument.

The question then becomes this one: if there's even a chance that disenfranchisement produces more crimes, more victims, more harm and produces no identifiable social benefit whatsoever, why do it? Are we so dependent on our thirst to punish that we're willing to forego living in a better community?

As far as your other questions are concerned, the fear of losing the vote didn't stop people from committing crime because the fear of incarceration or being killed at the hands of the government doesn't stop them either. Because people, in committing crimes, generally aren't thinking long-term. They're drug-addled, liquored up, and in a blind rage. Aside from that, they think they won't get caught.

And it isn't so much the actual act of voting that's the issue -- it's the message communicated from the government to the offender. Most people in this country don't vote, but its not the act that's important, it's the right. A basic human right, according to some organizations.

But, basically, it's what being disenfranchised means, symbolically: that it's the modern form of atimia, outlawry, and civil death. And the rhetorical question which disenfranchisement invites is that if one is no longer subject to the full benefits of the law, to what extent do their obligations of fidelity to the law suffer?

I'd say that extent is about 10%.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 20, 2012 4:34:28 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB