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June 2, 2013

Justifiable praise for Virginia Gov for new order restoring some felon voting rights

Today's New York Times has this notable editorial headlined "Restoring the Vote in Virginia." Here are excerpts:

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia enlarged democracy on Wednesday when he announced an order requiring the automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent offenders who have historically had to fight through a bureaucratic maze to gain access to the polls.

Governor McDonnell’s order, which could cover more than 100,000 people, reflects a growing awareness that disenfranchisement serves no rehabilitative purpose — and may, in fact, contribute to further criminal behavior by forcing former offenders to the margins of society.

In all, nearly six million Americans — about 2.5 percent of the voting-age population — are barred from voting by a confusing patchwork of state laws that strip convicted felons of the right to vote, often temporarily, but sometimes for life.  Nearly two dozen states have softened their disenfranchisement policies since the late 1990s, with several states repealing or scaling back lifetime bans.

But the practice of barring offenders from the polls remains a pronounced and malignant problem in the South, where it was used starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to curtail the political power of African-Americans.  During that period, state legislatures in the South went so far as to disenfranchise citizens for what they viewed as “Negro crimes,” like theft, while exempting defendants convicted of “white crimes,” including fighting in the streets and even murder.

The burden of disenfranchisement continues to fall heavily upon blacks generally, but especially blacks in the South....

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who was once a prosecutor, saw firsthand how disenfranchisement, combined with other obstacles, makes it harder for former offenders to forge lives outside of prison, and he has worked diligently to address the issue.

Under his order, people convicted of nonviolent felonies will have their right to vote restored if they have completed their sentences, satisfied court-ordered conditions and have no pending felony charges. Although details remain to be worked out, this important move helps restore fundamental rights for a neglected part of the population.

June 2, 2013 at 02:05 PM | Permalink


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"Governor McDonnell’s order, which could cover more than 100,000 people, reflects a growing awareness that disenfranchisement serves no rehabilitative purpose — and may, in fact, contribute to further criminal behavior by forcing former offenders to the margins of society."

How dumb are these Times editorial writers? Disenfranchisement isn't supposed to rehabilitate----it's basic justice. Should a rape victim (for example) and a rapist have the same influence over our government? As for disenfranchisement contributing to further criminal behavior, that's a pretty specious argument.

The Times, of course, has to play the race card. I don't see how it makes sense to say that the burden of disenfranchisement falls on blacks. No. It falls on criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 2, 2013 4:13:51 PM

From the NYT editorial: "... disenfranchisement serves no rehabilitative purpose — and may, in fact, contribute to further criminal behavior by forcing former offenders to the margins of society."

News flash to the NYT: Whether a person goes to "the margins of society" depends principally on (1) whether they have a responsible, caring family, (2) whether they have a job, and (3) whether they have a circle of friends and a decent, wholesome social life. And none of that depends to even a slight extent on whether they vote.

None of my friends is on "the margins of society," and I have no idea if they vote, nor would it make any difference if I knew.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 2, 2013 4:50:04 PM

The previous example misses the mark. A rapist is a violent offender. The Governor's order benefits non-violent offenders.

There is strong historical support for the argument that disenfranchisement was used as a political tool, and unfairly targeted the poor and minorities.

"Basic justice" is achieved through incarceration, fines, community service, and the like. Should an 18-year-old convicted of shoplifting (for example) be barred from voting for the rest of his life?

Posted by: JO | Jun 2, 2013 5:09:26 PM

I live in Kentucky, which is one of only 3 remaining states (the other two are Iowa and Florida), where the voting rights of former felons are not automatically restored after they complete their sentences, including probation and parole. Here, felons may file an application to the Governor to seek to have their voting rights restored, but not all such applications are granted. The Republicans who control the Ky. Senate have prevented this law from being changed here for the past 8 years, because they have made a political calculation that former felons would disproportionately register Democratic and vote for Democratic candidates. The Bill has typically received an affirmative vote of 80 to 15 (or so) in the Ky. House of Representatives. The outcome of the 200 Presidential election turned on 650 votes in Florida, where 850,000 former felons could not register to vote. It is fundamentally anti-American to expect former felons to pay their taxes, but not get to vote to elect the representatives who will spend those tax revenues. The Founding Fathers called it "taxation without representation."

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 2, 2013 6:35:24 PM

The previous example doesn't miss the mark. The Times quotation talked in general terms about whether disenfranchisement is rehabilitative--that's not its purpose.

And then JO goes on to ask about an 18 year old shoplifter. I guess self-awareness is not a trait he possesses. I don't think that involves a felony. Bust my chops (wrongly) and then pick a weak example.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 2, 2013 8:09:01 PM

I don't think we need to address NYT here. Prof. Berman says the praise is "justifiable." So, easy targets (for some at least) are not the only ones to speak about. Also, from the press release:

"However, once these individuals have served their time and fully paid for the offenses they committed, they should be afforded a clear and fair opportunity to resume their lives as productive members of our society. America is a land of opportunity and second chances; a land where we cherish and protect our constitutional rights. For those who have fully paid their debt for their crimes, they deserve a second chance to fully rejoin society and exercise their civil and constitutional rights."

Since it is a concern of the OP author, this too:

"The restoring of civil rights does not include the restoration of the right to possess or carry a firearm, which can still be done by application to the appropriate circuit court. Individuals with violent felony convictions are not affected by this change and will need to go through the application process for review as is currently the case."

As to "rehabilitative purpose," it makes some sense to ease some people who commit crimes into society again, thus the limits on parole or probation. But, after they "served their time," at least non-violent felons, they should be able to do the usual things members of society do, including the basic part of being a citizen in a republic. Also, JO is correct as to history. The NAACP is cited by the press release. Again, no need to focus on the NYT.

Always glad to find common ground with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 3, 2013 1:06:10 AM

actualy the whole question is bullshit. It's a "RIGHT to vote" not a "privilage" if it's a right...it's a right you have it from the second your born to the second you die! End!

the constituion has said it is legal to limit that right under limited conditions like being locked up in prison! Once that court ordered sentence is finished. THAT'S IT! it's done and all your rights that every OTHER AMERICAN has are constitutionaly restored INCLUDING the right to carry arms! you don't get to pick and choose which rights you give back.

After all the ideal that you can GIVE or TAKE them means it's not a FUCKING RIGHT!

So WHICH is it?

As for florida's so-called joke of a civil rights restoration system. think it's only running about 15-20 years behind!

after 20 years of lawsuits and court decisions it was finaly starting to make a LITTLE headway till the current governor and bimbo bondi take over. now the system is falling behind even [email protected]

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 3, 2013 7:37:24 PM

Joe, interesting that you should say that I should leave the Times alone. Over half the post is the Times house editorial. But whatever--some more Dem voters, so I am sure you're happy.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 3, 2013 9:10:41 PM

Criminals are disproportionally black due to the destruction of the patriarchal black family by the VFL. This is therefore a cheap tactic to increase the voter rolls of the Democratic Party, the party of the KKK, the prosecutor, the VFL, and the deterioration of the black neighborhood. Ironic.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 4, 2013 8:21:43 AM

Yo so I'm a student currently immersed in scholarship on this subject so allow me to lay down some knowledge. First, let's put aside partisan politics and whatever you might think about the NYT for a second and actually look at the issue of felon disenfranchisement. Laws on this issue vary ENORMOUSLY state by state in terms of whether it's applied to persons incarcerated/on parole/on probation/requires a waiting period or paying all fines post-sentence completion. BUT it is important to note that in terms of type of crime, criminal disenfranchisement is applied uniformly, across all states (except for Vermont and Maine where inmates can vote absentee) to people convicted of felonies AUTOMATICALLY, invisibly. Now if this is indeed a punishment shouldn't it be included as part of one's sentence, in proportion to their crime, as a decision handed down by a judge?

And no 'federalist,' we are not just talking about criminals here, we are talking about the American criminal justice system which disproportionally charges and incarcerates people of color and has done so for years. So when we talk about disenfranchisement based on criminal conviction it becomes very much about race and creates a disproportionately huge rate of second-class citizenship in communities of color and further alienates those people from wanting to make an effort to fully reintegrate into society.

Not to mention the fact that during the post-reconstruction period, a number of Southern states changed their criminal disenfranchisement laws for the expressed purpose of targeting offenses they believed the 'negro character' was pre-disposed to commit, like vagrancy and bigamy and petty larceny (which were often the result of displacement post-slavery, for real, you can look this up) but somehow NOT MURDER.

So tell me how does automatically disenfranchising a person often on the basis of laws that find their origins in extreme racism and without regard to severity of the crime committed do anything to demonstrate the veneration we hold for voting in our civilly minded democracy?

Posted by: betsy | Jul 13, 2013 4:24:02 PM

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