May 29 2013
The headline on the Washington Post homepage was troubling:
A Stain on Virginia’s Democracy
What could the stain be? The Old Dominion's history of slavery? Massive voter fraud? Nope.
It’s that the Old Dominion doesn’t allow felons to vote. This was an editorial calling for the end of this heinous practice.
Now, there may be some of my colleagues here at IWF who support allowing felons who have served their sentences to vote. I don’t.
It seems morally correct to me to restrict voting to citizens who have never committed a felon. Why shouldn’t somebody who ruptures civic society by a vicious act that is outside the law forfeit the right to vote? Hans von Spakovsky, former Federal Election Commission commissioner, has argued against restoring felon voting “rights:”
Since antiquity, withholding the right to vote from convicted felons has been considered rational and reasonable. Why should we allow those who have broken the law to have any say in making it?
The U.S. Constitution recognizes that in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment. It specifically provides that states may take away the right to vote "for participation in a rebellion, or other crime."
But restoring voting rights to people who have committed serious crimes is a crusade near to the heart of most leading Democrats. If I were a skeptical sort, I’d think the majority of felons are Democrats.
Several years ago, Rep. John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, sponsored legislation to force states to restore felon voting “rights.” Spakovsky called the proposed legislation unconstitutional. It also didn’t make sense. Spakovsky wrote then:
Many states automatically restore the right to vote once a felon has completed his prison term. Others such as Virginia require an individual application that gives the state the ability to determine whether a felon has paid his debt to society and shown that he can be trusted to exercise the rights of full citizenship. Under this law, a terrorist like Sulayman al-Faris (i.e., John Walker Lindh) would be able to vote as soon as he is released from federal prison – so he will be able to participate in choosing the representatives of the government he wanted to help destroy.
What is particularly revealing about this bill is that it does not say anything about the other civil rights that a felon loses such as the right to own a gun or serve on a jury or in some states, to work as a public employee. Apparently, the sponsors trust felons enough to vote but not enough to own a gun or work as a teacher or a police officer. That is an interesting comment given that the “Findings” in the bill claim that such state felon laws “serve no compelling State interest.” I guess this legislation would serve one compelling interest for the sponsors – it might get them votes they need to win in close elections.
The Washington Post, which is lobbying Governor Robert McDonnell to restore felon voting “rights” on the way out of office (instead of putting the matter before the—er—voters), also engages in some peculiar logic:
Given that more than half of the state’s prison population is African American, the result is a stain on the state’s democracy.
Are the supposedly logical editors of that great newspaper saying that the current laws regarding felon voting would be fine if more felons were white?
The editorial, notable for its racially charged language, goes on to say:
It is obviously in society’s interest to encourage felons, black and white, to rebuild lives guided by personal responsibility — to find jobs, pay taxes and care for their children. What sense does it make to set those expectations while, at the same time, denying the most basic right of citizenship to people who have already been punished?
Of course, it is good for society that ex-offenders find jobs and rebuild their lives. It is also good that they forfeit the right to vote. If you break society’s laws in a serious way, you should have no part in making law. Actions have consequences, and some will follow you through life.
Former offenders in Virginia, by the way, can apply to have voting rights restored. Virginia restores the rights of about 1,500 former prisoners a year.