Why are politicians worrying about voting rights for felons? Sounds weird? Well, believe it or not, some of our leaders worry quite a bit about voting rights for felons. Not only do some of them want to restore voting rights to ex-cons, they even want people still in jail, convicts, to vote.
- Not too long ago, Virginia’s governor, then Terry McAuliffe, restored the voting rights of over 200,000 ex-cons, Governor McAuliffe’s Gambit (theatlantic.com). Since his order was declared unconstitutional (Virginia’s Constitution), McAuliffe had to try another gambit, Terry McAuliffe’s Second Try at Restoring Felon Voting Rights (theatlantic.com).
- Now a major presidential candidate is advocating voting rights convicts, felons still in prison, Bernie Sanders says felons, even Boston Marathon bomber, should have right to vote in prison (usatoday.com).
What is going on? Why would anyone want felons to vote? Well, there are two obvious reasons.
- We don’t like depriving people of their rights, and voting is considered a right.
- There are quite a few felons in this country. If felons predominantly vote for one political party or the other, the felon vote could swing a close election.
Should someone convicted of a felony be deprived of the right to vote? That’s a judgement call, but consider the primary reason we need a government. Some people abuse the rights of others, and we need a government to stop them from abusing the rights of others. Since felons have demonstrated they are willing to abuse the rights of others, does it make sense to allow them to vote on which officials we want to restrain them?
The rate recidivism among felons is actually quite high. The 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014) (bjs.gov) shows that within 3 years 68 percent of released felons will be arrested again. However, not everyone who commits a felony goes to prison. So that statistic does not apply to all felons. Consider.
Only a tiny fraction of Americans who have been convicted of a felony are incarcerated. Perhaps 90 percent of all sentenced felons are out of confinement and living more or less among us.
How can that be? To begin: Few felons are sent away for life. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time that imprisoned first offenders serve in state penitentiaries is just more than two years. More than 600,000 convicts are released from prison every year, and despite high rates of recidivism, many don’t return.
In addition, many convicted felons are never confined in the first place; instead, they undergo “community supervision” (such as probation). Taken together, correctional release, parole and probation guarantee a steady annual flow of convicted felons into society. (from Statistical proof that America doesn’t care about ex-cons (nypost.com))
Thus, about 90 percent of a population of about 20 million felons is not in prison. Therefore, felons, if they vote as a block, could be a fairly large voting block. That should leave us wondering. Which among these people have been rehabilitated? That is something we need to think about. Supposedly, Florida’s move to allow ex-felons to vote brings U.S. closer to international election norms (washingtonpost.com). Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Are international norms a good example for us, or are we a better example for the rest of the world? Consider the number. Over 1 Million Florida Felons Win Right To Vote With Amendment 4 (npr.org). Was this a wise thing to do? What effect will those one million voters have on politics in Florida?