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November 13, 2017

Might last week's voting results in Virginia help lead to voting rights for everyone, including those with criminal records?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this extended HuffPost piece headlined "Democrats Just Won A Massive Victory For Voting Rights In Virginia." Here are excerpts:

On a night of Democratic victories, one of the most significant wins came in Virginia, where the party held onto the governor’s mansion. Democratic governor-elect Ralph Northam’s victory will enable him to expand voting rights to disenfranchised people and exert some control over the redistricting process.

The election had high stakes for voting rights. Virginia strips people of their right to vote if they are convicted of a felony, and those rights can only be restored by the governor. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) moved aggressively to restore rights to more than 168,000 former felons ― a policy Northam has said he is proud of and will continue.

In 2016, the nonprofit Sentencing Project estimated there were 508,680 people in Virginia who remained disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, meaning hundreds of thousands more could benefit from Northam’s policies. More than 1 in 5 people disenfranchised in the commonwealth because of a felony conviction were African-American, according to the organization....

Expanded voting rights restoration will benefit people like LaVaughn Williams and Brianna Ross, who are in their 50s and lost their right to vote decades ago, when they were convicted of felonies. Both women had their rights restored in the last year and voted for the first time in their lives on Tuesday, something they said made them feel like equal citizens. “If you had asked me maybe a year and a half, almost two years ago, I would’ve said ‘No,’ I didn’t never think I would vote,” Williams said on Tuesday after voting.

“Government and governors have come to the conclusion that even though we have not done a lot of good things in our lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, they have decided that they will put those past mistakes in the past and give us that second chance,” she said. “That’s all any person that’s an ex-felon can hope for, that second chance. Me getting my rights back is that second chance.”...

Voting rights became an important issue in the race after Northam’s Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, used highly misleading television advertisements to criticize the policy of restoring voting rights to former felons. Gillespie also personally oversaw the Republican effort to win state legislators and draw electoral boundaries to the party’s advantage in 2010. The high stakes attracted attention from voting groups like Let America Vote and Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

“Ralph Northam’s win tonight is a victory for every Virginian, a victory for the Democratic movement resisting President Trump’s disastrous administration and a victory for the protection of voting rights everywhere,” Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state and president of Let America Vote, said in a statement. “Ralph made his defense of voting rights a campaign priority,” Kander said. “Virginians took notice, which is why they came from all over the commonwealth to join Let America Vote and many other groups to get out the vote.”

Though I am not aware of any exit polling that suggests that Northam swayed a large number of voters with his advocacy for voting rights, I suspect that Gilllespie's attack on restoring voting rights to former felons would have been given too much credit if he had secured a come-from-behind win. More generally, in a nation that rightly takes pride in democratic governance, I am ever hopeful that advocacy for expanding the franchise can and will generally prevail over advocacy for restricting the franchise.

Because I have long thought that the biggest problem with democracy in the US results from too few rather than too many people voting, I continue to adhere to the positions developed here in support of allowing even incarcerated felons the right to political participation through the voting booth. In this context, it is worth recalling that we fought a war for independence based in part on the slogan "no taxation without representation." In that tradition, I think until we hear someone making the case for felons to be exempt from taxation, we ought in turn be ever-suspicious of the case for preventing felons from voting.

November 13, 2017 at 10:26 AM | Permalink


Almost all criminals will vote for the Democratic Party. All arguments for enfranchisement are to increase votes for the Democratic Party, not for fairness.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 13, 2017 11:19:02 AM

Recent electoral news used to discuss sex offender laws


Posted by: Joe | Nov 13, 2017 2:32:41 PM

David go buy a vowl and a clue. This nation is a representative republic/democracy that means anyone legally living here and NOT under a court ordered punishment has the legal right to vote.

Personally I think everyone should be required to show up and vote. If just so pick the last option "I don't care"

Posted by: Rodsmith3510 | Nov 13, 2017 11:11:10 PM

A little overstated Rod. The right to vote is a mix of federal law rights and state law rights. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment specifically authorizes felon disenfranchisement laws. Such laws make the U.S. something of an outlier among Western democracies, but they do mean that felons only have a legal right to vote if a state chooses to grant them the legal right to vote.

Posted by: tmm | Nov 14, 2017 10:19:07 AM

"In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment specifically authorizes felon disenfranchisement laws."

A little overstated tmm. There is a provision in the 14A that provides a means (never used once and apparently requiring congressional action of some sort to kick in) to penalize certain types of denial of the right to vote. Certain categories are exempt, two later dealt with by constitutional amendment. From the PENALTY.

That is the only "specific" reference I know of and saying it "authorizes" it (especially if it is problematic on other grounds) is questionable. I know what the US Supreme Court decided on the point, but the dissent had a strong case too. I take the earlier comment shouldn't be taken literally. It is known that five year olds don't have the right to vote. The general argument is just that -- it is an argument. People could say separate was unequal in 1950, Plessy notwithstanding.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 14, 2017 8:20:37 PM

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