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Right to Vote.
October 8, 2008 2:46 PM   Subscribe

As we approach Nov. 4, I'm reminded that an estimated 5.3 million Americans are prohibited from voting because of a felony conviction. The ACLU breaks it down by state.
posted by lunit (145 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously here and here.
posted by lunit at 2:51 PM on October 8, 2008


Can anyone actually explain this in terms other than “criminals don’t count as people” or the awesomely moronic “criminals would just vote to make everything legal”? It just seems spiteful and stupid.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


From what has been explained to me, the concept is that criminals have been shown to consider themselves as outside of society so should not be allowed to participate in it.

Spurious logic when broken down, but I'm sure it seems very compelling to those who buy into it.
posted by batmonkey at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2008


Also I’m assuming that white collar criminals get to vote because they are Teh Awesome (plus usually rich and of the right colour)?
posted by Artw at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2008


White color felons do not get to vote.


And I also think it has to do with judgement, as if if you had any you wouldn't have broke the law, so now that you have proven you lack skills to make wise choices, you don't get to vote.

Of course, this means if you willfully violated a law that you don't agree with you can never vote for a candidate that agrees with your view (and eventually get the law changed). Just think if all those NOLM people could still vote!
posted by cjorgensen at 3:01 PM on October 8, 2008


Doing voter registration in Indiana, an ex-felon incorrectly told me he was unable to vote. I re-registered him, but since it was after the registration deadline for the primary I assumed he would be unable to vote. It turns out that the act of handing in the registration reactivated his dormant registration and he was able to vote in the primary. I don't know if that's the case in other states.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:04 PM on October 8, 2008


Good on you, EMRJKC!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:05 PM on October 8, 2008


Yay, war on drugs!
posted by Eideteker at 3:16 PM on October 8, 2008


In next week's Canadian election I'm going to be working as a Deputy Returning Officer. One of my election day responsibilities is to decide who gets to vote in my polling district. The only requirements are:
1. You must be at least 18 years old.
2. You must be a Canadian Citizen.
3. You must reside in the polling district.

That's it. Unregistered voters can register on the spot and vote. Even if you show up with no ID whatsoever, you can still vote if another eligible voter from the same polling district will vouch for you and swear an oath.
I don't expect to turn anyone away unless they're in the wrong district.
posted by rocket88 at 3:16 PM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't understand why anyone finds this to be scandalous.

It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?

They can't own guns for the rest of their lives, too. Same thing.
posted by Class Goat at 3:22 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


The details depend on the state, but my understanding is that in many states the felony only prevents you from voting during the term of your sentence. In other words if you are in jail or on probation or parole, you don't get to vote.

But I believe in those states once your sentence is completely wiped clean you can vote after that. I haven't done the research on this, so am I mistaken?
posted by chimaera at 3:23 PM on October 8, 2008


The Sentencing Project folks do some awesome work.

I don't understand why we continue to punish people with disenfranchisement after they have served their sentence and "paid their debt to society". We do all sorts of things to punish people after they've served their sentence, from making them ineligible for student loans (so they can't get an education, which will help them turn their life around how?) to keeping them out of public housing. And then we wonder why so many people end up back in prison again.

With the caveat that I have some association with these folks, GOP Intimidation Halts Historic Drive to Register Voters in Alabama and Legislation Introduced to Restore Voting Rights for People Who Have Finished Prison Sentence
posted by gingerbeer at 3:24 PM on October 8, 2008


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men1 are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

1. Please note that for our purposes "all men" should be taken to mean law-abiding american citizens of European descent. Specifically excluded are: foreigners, prisoners, people with weird ideas, and possibly minorities. This excluded group has no rights and may be detained, tortured, and conquered according to the whims of any American of authority.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:27 PM on October 8, 2008


It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?

We don't deny these people basic human rights.
We don't deny them medical care.
We don't deny them, say, evacuation in the case of an emergency.
We don't deny them the right to see their families or write letters.
We don't deny them the right to appeal before the courts.

So why single out voting as something to remove?

And it's not the same thing as not being allowed to own a gun, given that I'm pretty sure a single vote never killed anyone.
posted by Jimbob at 3:28 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


Also I’m assuming that white collar criminals get to vote because they are Teh Awesome (plus usually rich and of the right colour)?

Voting rights for felons vary widely from state to state. In Maine and Vermont, convicted felons are allowed to vote while in prison. A few states do distinguish between types of felony. These include Mississippi (which includes both white-collar and violent crimes on its list of disenfranchisable offenses), Georgia (which only disenfranchises people who are convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude", whatever that means), and Florida, where violent felons are disenfranchised.

It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?

They can't own guns for the rest of their lives, too. Same thing.


I don't like the idea of this sort of partial citizenship. If they're not qualified to participate in society, they should be in prison. If they are qualified to participate in society, they should be allowed to participate fully.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:29 PM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Yay Canada! This is the only reasonable way to go about it. If you are a citizen, you get to vote.

Saying that transgressing a law (which most of us have done) and getting caught AND sentenced and jailed makes you too much of an outsider to be considered a citizen is not reasonable. Once you start disenfranchising people, where do you stop? Should there be a minimum IQ or EQ level? Personally, I think a drug dealer in prison can cast a more informed vote that someone who is mentally impaired - or even someone who doesn't read a newspaper, but those are not reasonable lines of thought to follow in creating law. If you live here, you vote here.
posted by kozad at 3:29 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


And it's not the same thing as not being allowed to own a gun, given that I'm pretty sure a single vote never killed anyone.

My weapon of choice in Thunderdome is the ballot.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2008


They can't own guns for the rest of their lives, too. Same thing.

Sure they can.

But there's no black market voting.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


chimaera - yes, it varies a lot from state to state. The ACLU link in the post has the details. In some states you can never vote, some not while on parole, and some as soon as your sentence is done. In others, you have to go through some legal process to get your rights restored, and it's not automatic.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:31 PM on October 8, 2008



That's it. Unregistered voters can register on the spot and vote. Even if you show up with no ID whatsoever, you can still vote if another eligible voter from the same polling district will vouch for you and swear an oath.
I don't expect to turn anyone away unless they're in the wrong district


That sounds, at least on the face of it, like a very bad idea. You should at least need to show some ID.
posted by mattholomew at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2008


They can't own guns for the rest of their lives, too. Same thing.

Not really.

Preventing felons from owning guns makes sense because it helps protect people should said felon decide to use the guns to commit crime.

Disenfranchising them, on the other hand, simply serves to prevent them from participating in society, reinforces any preexisting sense of social marginalization that they may have felt and actively discourages good citizenship.

And I also think it has to do with judgement, as if if you had any you wouldn't have broke the law, so now that you have proven you lack skills to make wise choices, you don't get to vote.

Alternatively, if you've got enough money to pay decent lawyers, they can ensure that you cut a good enough deal that this never actually happens. Because, lets face it, if the system was genuinely fair and rich white folks didn't get a different deal to poor black folks in this regard, you'd currently have a man running for President on the Republican ticket whose *wife* wasn't actually eligible to vote for him.

Now, what was that you were saying about judgement and decision-making skills again?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2008 [13 favorites]


given that I'm pretty sure a single vote never killed anyone.

~600 votes in FL and/or ~2000 in NH got a lot of people killed
posted by troy at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2008 [14 favorites]


As a felon I would like to say you are only hitting on the tip of the iceberg with voting issues. It goes a lot deeper with many more ramifications. If I didn't have the luxury of being self employed, I would literally be forced into living below poverty level..... or resorting to illegal activities to make any sort of an income.

Thank god I am a DJ :D
posted by Addiction at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


To be fair we should have a state in which only Felons could vote. You can have my home state of Kansas, its going red anyway.
posted by jlowen at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


That sounds, at least on the face of it, like a very bad idea. You should at least need to show some ID.

ID is easy to fake/steal, so it's not much of a difference. I do inform the voter and the person vouching for them what the criminal penalty is for voter fraud, however.
posted by rocket88 at 3:41 PM on October 8, 2008


Ha, you don't think preventing convicted felons from voting is important? I dare you to think the same way after reading this completely true story:

It was 3 AM and a young man dressed in black skulked outside of a normal middle-class home. As he adjusted his ski mask, he thought to himself "Boy, this is a great idea! Through thievery, I can exchange goods that don't belong to me for money, which I can then use to purchase drugs and pornography!"

After skillfully picking the lock, he made his way inside and started looking for valuables. "This Bible ought to score some quick cash," he thought to himself as he placed that most sacred book into his burlap sack. As he was stealing some family photos, he remembered back to a time when someone mentioned that burglary was a felony. "Felony, huh?" he thought, "That probably means a few years in prison if I'm caught. I could serve that kind of sentence without any difficulties, though. Thanks to the liberals, I'm provided with free food, books, workout equipment, etc. It's practically a vacation!"

He had almost finished stealing all of young Susie's artwork from the fridge, when another thought entered his mind: "I remember someone saying convicted felons have a hard time getting jobs. Pshaw, who needs a job when being a criminal is so easy!"

But halfway through emptying the medicine cabinet of Grampa's heart medication, he thought of something that stopped him dead in his tracks: "Wait a minute, felons don't get to vote in this state! Proud Americans have fought for centuries for my suffrage, am I really willing to throw that all away so easily? Is it worth becoming one of the powerless and ineffectual disenfranchised for a quick score?" He thought long and hard about it.

The next day, the family awoke to find a note on their kitchen table:

Sorry about the mess, I tried to put everything back as best I could. I almost made a big mistake last night, and I learned something about being an American. I will spend the rest of my life being a productive member of society and serving my country. I cannot erase what I've done but hopefully your good family and God can forgive me.

Vote McCain/Palin 08

Sincerely,
The Would-Be Burglar

posted by burnmp3s at 3:41 PM on October 8, 2008 [30 favorites]


It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?
They can't own guns for the rest of their lives, too. Same thing.


Though I'm inclined to disagree with both practices, banning gun ownership to convicted felons could at least be rationalized as specific deterrence applicable to future acts. In contrast, how does one defend the abrogation of voting rights, or the right to serve on a jury, or any punishment whose sole effect seems to be the political disenfranchisement of its recipient? General deterrence? Do Kentucky and Florida enjoy lower crime rates than the rest of the world due to these laws? Do they cause crime to think twice?

If not, what social benefit could they possibly serve?
posted by kid ichorous at 3:42 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Saying that transgressing a law (which most of us have done) and getting caught AND sentenced and jailed makes you too much of an outsider to be considered a citizen is not reasonable. Once you start disenfranchising people, where do you stop? Should there be a minimum IQ or EQ level? Personally, I think a drug dealer in prison can cast a more informed vote that someone who is mentally impaired - or even someone who doesn't read a newspaper, but those are not reasonable lines of thought to follow in creating law. If you live here, you vote here.

You seem to think that any restrictions on voting rights necessarily lead to a slippery slope where all sorts of other criteria are thrown in, but I'm not seeing the evidence. Should we get rid of age restrictions too? After all, 6-year olds are affected by political decisions, shouldn't they be allowed to vote?

I'm perfectly fine with "disenfranchising" this guy.
posted by mattholomew at 3:43 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


ID is easy to fake/steal, so it's not much of a difference. I do inform the voter and the person vouching for them what the criminal penalty is for voter fraud, however.

So basically if someone could find a gullible person to vouch for them, they could be convicted of a felony for which they'd never get caught because they lied about their identity in the first place? I'm not seeing the deterrent to fraud here.
posted by mattholomew at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2008


I think felons shouldn't be able to get married or work in shipping either. I may come up with some other arbitrary things to deny them.

WAIT! One more: No plastic surgery.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:49 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thank God felons can't vote. Even if it were legal for them to, their stubby little paws can't hold a pen and they can't read what's on a touchscreen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


If the restriction were only limited to those who have committed violent acts with direct and provable consequences to actual victims, it would make more sense.

If it were applied evenly, it also would make more sense.

Since it isn't and doesn't, it doesn't make sense.

It cannot be applied fairly. It's a false restriction.
posted by batmonkey at 3:51 PM on October 8, 2008


It cannot be applied fairly. It's a false restriction.
[Citation Needed]
posted by mattholomew at 3:53 PM on October 8, 2008


rocket88 - I think that the rules have changed for Canadian voters this year and that you need to show ID with your current address. I received a pamphlet about it recently that explained you could either show a driver's license or use a combination of various ids from a pretty generous list.

The option to have someone vouch for you is pretty specific in that the person has to be registered to vote (done when filing taxes) at the same polling station.
posted by jeffmik at 3:55 PM on October 8, 2008


I probably don't have a problem with restricting voting rights during the big time-out that is a felony conviction (and subsequent parole period). But it does seem abused.
Over and over again. Often with big numbers effected.

This might be an issue where we have to take away the power to disenfranchise felons until we prove we can be more responsible.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:55 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


to add to my post - it used to be good enough to show up to the polling station with just your voter card.
posted by jeffmik at 3:57 PM on October 8, 2008


This might be an issue where we have to take away the power to disenfranchise felons until we prove we can be more responsible.

Maybe we should just stop convicting anyone of felonies for anything?
posted by mattholomew at 3:58 PM on October 8, 2008


Also I’m assuming that white collar criminals get to vote...

Nah, they pay people to do it for them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2008


mattholomew: what kind of citation would be helpful there?

My objection is probably considered philosophical, and relating the tales of those I've known who faced this restriction would only be anecdotal. Neither are proper cites, but I'd be game to at least know what you'd qualify as a proper citation.
posted by batmonkey at 4:02 PM on October 8, 2008


mattholomew - sorry I missed this:
"Maybe we should just stop convicting anyone of felonies for anything?"

That's ridiculous. How does one even relate to the other?
posted by batmonkey at 4:04 PM on October 8, 2008


What better way to underscore the fact that rehabilitation is for suckers? Do the crime, pay the time, and lose your vote and (likely) any chance at real upward social mobility in the private sector? This is nothing more than ideology trumping good old fashioned American pragmatism. Eff that noise. Also: Hussein. Hussein!
posted by joe lisboa at 4:06 PM on October 8, 2008


KENTUCKY Disfranchisement Law: Individuals convicted of felonies, treason and election bribery lose the right to vote

Will legislate for irony.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since statistics on prison inmates in the United States have been recorded, African American men have constituted a disproportionate percentage of state inmate populations (Cahalan, 1979). In 1880, when African Americans were 13.1 percent of the United States population, 28.6 percent of all prisoners in state correctional institutions were African American men (Cahalan, 1979).

Bt 1989, a year in which African Americans made up 12 percent of the U.S. population and African American men less than 6 percent of the population, African American men confined to state prisons had grown to 48 percent of the prisoner population (U.S. Department of Justice, 1989, 1991a). On the other hand, European American men comprise approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population but represent only 46 percent of the state prison population (U.S. Department of Justice, 1989, 1991a).

I could go on.

Is that a sufficient citation?
posted by Richard Daly at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


batmonkey: I'd like to know what this philosophical objection is. The idea that if something can't be applied fairly it shouldn't be done sounds rather weak. After all, no matter how strong the justice system is, there will at any given point be a wrongfully convicted person in prison, and this person will be 'disenfranchised' in any number of ways. Should we then say that nobody can be put in prison any more because the justice system isn't completely fair?
posted by mattholomew at 4:12 PM on October 8, 2008


Sex offender registration... ok or not? That's a similar punishment that continues after you're freed from jail.
posted by smackfu at 4:21 PM on October 8, 2008


I explained my objection, mattholomew - the rule doesn't make any sense and doesn't aid in deterrence or prosecution of crime. It places an unfair burden on those who cannot afford the type of defense that would allow them to at least retain this right after release. GW's wife, as mentioned above, is a pretty good example of the unfairness of the application of these restrictions.

While I don't believe we should end all imprisonment of criminals, I do think it should be limited to those who don't pay attention to the guideline of not hurting anyone or who can't understand the concept of "that's not yours, leave it alone". I also believe, perhaps controversially, that because innocent people are killed on Death Row, we should find some other guidelines for that practice, too.

Humane and sane application of laws doesn't mean abandoning lawfulness. It means making our legal and penal system a representation of how we want our society to function by having it function in a similar fashion.

Even if the right is only restored to those who have been released from prison and are no longer on parole or have a certain time period of productive re-integration, that would be a step closer to better representing our nation's ideals and allowing a more just application of our laws.
posted by batmonkey at 4:23 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Between the disenfrachisement squads operated by the parties, vindictive disenfranchisement like this and, well, the quality of the candidates, I'm surprised anyone in the US votes. Ever.
posted by pompomtom at 4:27 PM on October 8, 2008


Hello Thick Person,

Let me address your concerns. You see, in this thread we are discussing viable ways that the justice system could be improved, not creating a jejune dichotomy between having a perfect justice system and abolishing it entirely.

Hope this helps,

f.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:31 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


batmonkey: The rule makes plenty of sense in that people who (in your words) don't understand basic concepts of properly socialized behavior don't have the capability to make political decisions.

Just curious, under your revised Code of Hammurabi, is perjury no longer a crime?
posted by mattholomew at 4:32 PM on October 8, 2008


God, law and order types make me so hot.

If you've served your time, paid your debt, you should be a full citizen again. Hell, I support felons who are rightfully out of the joint being able to own guns. I'd rather they had a registered piece than a black-market one. Employers should not be able to ask about felony convictions, either.

And felons can't get student loans? What kind of fucked-up shit is that?

Either prison works and the men and women who are incarcerated are rehabilitated, or we find something that does rehabilitate them. If they're hopeless sociopaths after all that, then throw away the key or keep trying. But this prison-outside-of-prison is retarded and spiteful.
posted by maxwelton at 4:34 PM on October 8, 2008 [16 favorites]


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: "Ex-felon?" How's that work?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:38 PM on October 8, 2008


On time-lapse non-preview: What maxwelton said.
posted by batmonkey at 4:39 PM on October 8, 2008


Between the disenfrachisement squads operated by the parties,

Yeah, see, I sort of looked online about being a poll watcher. Information was kind of scanty, but it seems like the only way I can do that is as a representative and supporter of a party, which is kind of the exact way it shouldn't be.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, blacks and poor people are disproportionately represented among felons, and are therefore disproportionately disenfranchised. That's got nothing to do with it, I'm sure.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:42 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


The idea that at least two, and probably more, states formally disavow the concept of rehabilitation in this manner scares me quite, quite thoroughly. One strike and you're out, indeed.
posted by aihal at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2008


I am a sort-of convicted felon. I was convicted of a felony, but as I was twelve at the time, the records are now sealed. Which is to say, I declare myself a convicted felon at jury selection, but not at the voting booth or job interviews.

Yeah, yeah, eponysterical.

My current lady-friend is a convicted felon and current parolee (her parole period is for three years, a period that I feel is a bit unreasonable, which will be over in February). She's done an amazing job of turning her life around since her release from prison, attending a good college and working at a local museum of note. She's very excited about the upcoming election, because she recognizes that this country has gone wildly off-course, and she wants to be part of the process of fixing it. She's put a lot of work into the Obama campaign. She's done canvassing and fund raisers and worked on a commercial, which is certainly more than I've done. She's a hard-working, genuinely patriotic, democracy-loving American who honestly believes that we can make our nation and the world a better place by voting with our consciences.

She will not be permitted to participate in the upcoming election, and that breaks my heart.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:45 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure why some people are putting "disenfranchise" in scare quotes, given that "to deprive of the right to vote" is the primary meaning of the word. Might as well put quotes around "vote," "felon," and "state."
posted by lore at 4:48 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm with those in the "who cares" camp. You committed a felony. We punished you. Likely with jail time. We collectively felt we had to lock you in a cage. Sorry, you lose a lot of other things with that.

I think part of the reasoning is also, look, you have committed a felony, and therefore it's reasonable to presume you are not exactly committed to these whole "morals" and "decent society" concepts. Remember when we all (or rather, 12 of us) felt we had to lock you in a cage? So, going forward, we're going to consider you more likely to become involved in more criminal activity than the average person. Given that, we're going to try to isolate you from areas in which you might become involved in doing greater-than-usual harm. We're going to try to prevent you from owning firearms, for example, or prevent you from living near a school, if you have that particular proclivity, or prevent you from holding an important job, like police work (you know, the kind of work that puts you in contact with other criminals or guns). Moreover, we're going to try to prevent you from voting, if only in an attempt to stop someone else from conspiring with you to commit voter fraud, which we consider important.

It places an unfair burden on those who cannot afford the type of defense that would allow them to at least retain this right after release.

Sounds like you're really angry at the lack of good, free public defense. Which is a different subject altogether.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:51 PM on October 8, 2008


The FPP was a little misleading. In most US states, except Kentucky and Virginia, the linked map implies that felons are permitted to vote, once their sentence has been served. Vermont and Maine even allow people serving a sentence to vote.
posted by mr dodo at 4:55 PM on October 8, 2008


You know, I'm reminded of an acquaintance that committed a felony -- a million dollars in fraud in a funeral home scam. She preyed on grieving widows. She was guilty as hell.

We wondered what she would do with her life now that she's out of the pokey. We wondered if she could, like, sell real estate. Or sell insurance. Or some other low-level, white collar work for which she's suited, and for which it's easy to get into and holds some long-term potential.

Then I thought ... wait a sec. She committed fraud. Against grieving widows. With forged documents. She used the money to, like, build a swimming pool for her million-dollar house. Would I really want this person shepherding me through a real estate transaction?

Fuck that. Let her restock grocery store shelves. That's honest work.

Just keep her away from the damn cash register.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2008


I'll come out and say it: if you're okay with the disenfranchisement of felons, you're a shitty person.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'll come out and say it: if you're okay with the disenfranchisement of felons, you're a shitty person.

/ me waves poo-covered hand at Pope Guilty
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2008


Cool Papa Bell:
"Sounds like you're really angry at the lack of good, free public defense. Which is a different subject altogether."

Not "really angry", no. Passionately disappointed, sure, but then I'd hope anyone else wanting to be a member of a just society would feel the same way.

Anyway, my thinking on it does truly have those related - if we can't provide the defense, we can't realistically apply the disenfranchisement rules fairly.

Sure, I've got some conflicted thoughts on it, but it's a complex issue. I'm human :)
posted by batmonkey at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2008


Any felon who wants to come live with me can come vote here.
posted by jessamyn at 5:05 PM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


if we can't provide the defense, we can't realistically apply the disenfranchisement rules fairly.

Not to belabor the issue, but if we think we truly can't provide the defense, we've got bigger problems than keeping the bad guys from voting.

You know, there's that whole "locked in a cage" thing. ;-)

Which is why I always find these discussions odd. "Waiter, I think the food on my plate is cold and rancid, but first, let's talk about the lack of a parsley sprig garnish..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2008


Remember when we all (or rather, 12 of us) felt we had to lock you in a cage?

What, you don't remember?! Here, let us remind you. Again. And for the rest of your life. Just be thankful we're not trading your ass around like chattel. They don't let us do that anymore. At least not openly. Now supersize my order of fries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


Rhode Island recently voted to allow former inmates to vote. One of the men who was instrumental in this is a convicted felon named Andres Idarraga who eventually graduated from Brown University is now a student at Yale Law School. He was invited back to speak at a graduation at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

I'm not always big on "feel good" types of stories, but it's worth reading about him; you can find a Providence Journal article about him here.

Purely based on my own opinions, I think disenfranchising former inmates is, without hyperbole, unconscionable. I can't think of a better way to generate frustration at best and apathy at worst in people who are already struggling to adjust. Coming out of prison is harrowing for anyone; my father works in the criminal justice system, and is closely acquainted with a man who was wrongfully convicted. The actual murderer ultimately confessed, but not until after this man had been incarcerated for a number of years. The man asked for a meeting with my father a few months after his release; my dad was expecting anger, but the guy was really just at a loose end. He had the same problems that EVERYONE does when they get out of jail, even aside from the marginalization; he didn't know anyone, everyone had moved on, it had been years since he had bought groceries or paid rent or gone clothes shopping. If you are in that situation, if you aren't used to being a part of society, how do you get involved in anything? I would think convincing former inmates to get involved in a constructive process would be the best thing to do. Attempting to adjust to life outside of prison is a harrowing and often unsuccessful process. Any chance that people in that situation have to express their options in a positive way is a win in my book.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


I was out doing voter registration tonight and met two guys who didn't think they could vote because they had felony convictions. You should have seen their face when I told them they could register. I felt like Santa Claus. They're going to vote next Thursday.
posted by EarBucket at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


“Can anyone actually explain this in terms other than “criminals don’t count as people’”

Yes. (And note, I’m playing devil’s advocate here - I see the position, but I don’t favor it)

Essentially criminals have proven they don’t have the moral reasoning to be able to vote. How can someone who has chosen to break the law - and an (assumably) moral practice (say stealing or battery as opposed some form of to civil disobediance) - be again considered a dutyful citizen.

They have been, by definition as a criminal, derelict in their duties as a responsible citizen.
So by what criteria should certain aspects of their citizenship be restored to them?

You see - they’re out of prison, but that they have served their sentence does not mean that they are just as morally responsible as any other citizen.

“It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?”

And that forms my opposition to the argument I pose above.
(plus what gingerbeer, mr_roboto, maxwelton, et.al. said).

While I do cede that there is no basis for the restoration of an individual’s full rights as a citizen once they have comitted a crime...
And if someone is so derelict in their responsibility as to commit a crime, then the small matter of voting is hardly at the top of the list in terms of restoration of trust (that is - we release them with at least some expectation they won’t steal anymore, ergo a good deal of trust by society is reinvested in them)...
I disagree that an individual’s right to vote is predicated on their usefulness as an individual or their ability to reason morally.

In part because the broader a society is, and more inclusive and tolerant of ideas and actions it is - the more it ‘listens’ - the more stable it is and the less disaffected individuals it will have, ergo less crime, unrest, etc.

But mostly because reengagement not only restores the individual (for all the reasons above) but is an investment by society in that person - albiet with some risk.
And the practice of doing so - the mechanisms by which we afford individuals trust, self-worth, and the ability to reenter society and become productive, successful individuals supports and augments the foundational institutions we have that make us a stronger, more stable country.

Essentially - we don’t do it for them - Joey Bagadonuts might go back to snatching purses - but we do it because in the long run the percentages pay off not only in dividends for society, but in terms of keeping in the practice of bestowing and safeguarding liberty.

Which is the business the American government is supposed to be in (or so I think some founding father said some time), not taking away liberty.
That’s just a side thing that seems to have gotten blown out of proportion lately.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:12 PM on October 8, 2008 [10 favorites]


I'm perfectly unoffended by the fact that, in most states, felons can't vote until they have served out their sentence.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:13 PM on October 8, 2008


Cool Papa Bell sounds like a McCain/Palin voter :(
posted by Addiction at 5:14 PM on October 8, 2008


If I could frame a post as an example of being something I ultimately, respectfully agree-to-disagree with, but it's done so artfully, eloquently and thoughtfully that it almost convinces me to flip my view, I'd frame Smedleyman's just now.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:17 PM on October 8, 2008


Cool Papa Bell sounds like a McCain/Palin voter :(

Oh hell no.

Blazecock Pileon, help me out here. You think I'm a crank. We've had fights. But explain to them that I'm not that kind of a crank.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:18 PM on October 8, 2008


You don't have to be a McCain/Palin supporter to be an asshole.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:23 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


You see - they’re out of prison, but that they have served their sentence does not mean that they are just as morally responsible as any other citizen.

Let's reinstate slavery. We're pretty much there, already, with laws like these. Let's stop lying about who we are and how we behave.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:25 PM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell:
"Not to belabor the issue, but if we think we truly can't provide the defense, we've got bigger problems than keeping the bad guys from voting."

Well, I agree, but it's the same as cleaning your house - you can't clean the whole thing at the same time. You start with one room or one type of task and go from there.

I do see that this could end up dividing actions which could help correct the greater issue, but that happens with pretty much every issue ever.

Unless we're all suddenly going to focus as a nation upon one issue at a time until it's resolved once and for all (and I'm totally into that idea, myself, but highly doubt that'll happen), I think it's okay to be worried about pieces of issues in addition to the situation as a whole.
posted by batmonkey at 5:25 PM on October 8, 2008


I think people are getting it the wrong way around. Voting is a responsibility, not a recreation, and it should be the responsibility of all--not a privilege, not a reward--in our society.

My mom can vote. She has some dementia related to her Parkinson's and I have to operate the voting machine for her in the nursing home, but by gum she can tell me who she wants to vote for. And I support her because she's the one who taught me that voting is a responsibility.
posted by Peach at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon, help me out here. You think I'm a crank. We've had fights. But explain to them that I'm not that kind of a crank.

But you should vote for McCain. He's all about putting people animals in cages, where they belong.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2008


Smedleyman writes "Essentially criminals have proven they don’t have the moral reasoning to be able to vote. "

The problem with this position is the fallacy of confusing following the letter of the law with moral reasoning.
posted by mullingitover at 5:52 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Morally deficient? That's the hat you want to hang this on? Really?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:53 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


*ponders hanging things on hats. decides hanging hats on things a better idea*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:54 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay Canada! This is the only reasonable way to go about it. If you are a citizen, you get to vote.

Actually, they've passed a law to disenfranchise citizens living overseas. Which sucks. You either are a citizen or are not - and I'd happily continue to pay taxes overseas to keep my vote. Also, I should get health care (which I paid taxes and premiums for) the minute I arrive home - none of this waiting 3 months.
posted by jb at 5:55 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I live in Virginia (Richmond), one of the 2 states (+ KY) where "all people with felony convictions are permanantly disenfranchised".

Virginia, also has a very high population of black males incarcerated, many for petty marijuana convictions. I did a drive along with a cop one Friday night, and even he expressed his disgust with a system which arrested so many people for marijuana possesion (I don't know what the limit is here, but it ain't much). They lose their right to vote forever. So did the white stoner guy I worked for in college, and the friend of my brother's who hung himself after he was busted for growing pot on his farm -- but that is a different story.

Virginia & Kentucky also had the highest number of slaves while it was part of our lifestyle.

Richmond was also the center of the the breeding of slaves, a topic which has just began to be discussed here.

Black men as slaves then, black men as slaves now. Non-citizens.
posted by tarantula at 5:59 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I understand the basic idea behind it, I just think it's needless punishment. If the prison system worked properly, then their sentence should serve as penance for their crime, and they should return to being full citizens. Voting rights included.

Gun rights? Why not? Maybe they should define the rule a bit more? There's a serious difference between a killer and a burglar. Still, if the defining rule of the US is that citizens can have guns, they should be able to.
posted by graventy at 5:59 PM on October 8, 2008


Peach! Well put. Precisely. Very clarifying.
posted by batmonkey at 6:01 PM on October 8, 2008


I have a friend who works for a think tank here in Chicago. They did a big study of incarceration. I asked her what the "surprise" or the "ah ha" moments were from the study. She explained to me that prisoners are counted for the US Census in the county where the prison is located.

Think about Rove's permanent majority strategy for a moment and think about where prisons are built in Texas. You can add to the population to traditional Republican districts with disenfranchised (non voting), traditional Democratjc Party voters. In other words: a Congressional incumbent that, in all probability, cannot be voted out. Genius. Evil genius, but genius. Just craziness.

The census is based on total population so the Republicans are trying, currently, to eliminate all undocumented workers, so the electoral college will adjust and the key states will have less to offer. What is the population of California without the undocumented workers? How many electoral votes would they have without them? In other words, the smaller (Republican-leaning) states will be worth more as the bigger states are worth less.

I feel like a crazy man writing this. I would love to be wrong. I have had a little wine too.

Mayday...mayday...
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:09 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


the Republicans are trying, currently, to eliminate all undocumented workers

I rather doubt this. What politicians say they are trying to do is not the same as what politicians are trying to do.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2008


the concept is that criminals have been shown to consider themselves as outside of society so should not be allowed to participate in it.

And yet, not outside enough to avoid paying taxes.

(insert something witty about no taxation without representation here)
posted by rough ashlar at 6:14 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the mindset of people who think that once you've committed a single crime, that for the rest of your entire life, you must be incapable of making any rational decisions.

Would you take away the responsibility of voting from people who once needed in-patient mental health? Or who were untreated for a long time but are not stable and on medication and have been for years? How about people coming out of abusive relationships, or controlling families? Or cult-like religions?

Where do you draw the line? You CAN'T. Calling it "Well, it's because they've proven they can't make rational decisions once, so they never will" is like saying that the nineteen year old who enlists in the army and stayed in for yen years and then regrets it when he's 31 because it was bad for him should never vote. Or the girl who got into an abusive relationship who didn't know how to leave until she was twenty five. Or the drug addict who spent time in rehab but is clean. Or the guy who needed two years in a mental hospital before they got his dosage right. Why is the person who dealt pot, or stole a car, or did meth, or robbed a bank unable to change and is marked indelibly for life as irrational and unable to think, but every single other type of mistake means you are able to make decisions rationally and reasonably?

If you believe that one- or even a series - of decisions that might be foolish mark us as forever unable to make good decisions, you are ignoring your own history. You have made mistakes, you have been irrational, you have fucked up because everyone does - and to suggest that once a mistake is made, a person can never recover and is forever going to make mistakes over and over is denying that any human can grow up.

You are in effect saying that mistakes - any mistake, all mistakes, mark us forever as flawed and unable to think intelligently.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:15 PM on October 8, 2008 [12 favorites]


Sigh. Almost everyone coming from all sides except from the side of the felon. What if something tragic: an accident, a mistake, chock it up to being young and stupid, puts you into a postion where you lose your full rights as a citizen. Sure, lose your right to own a gun. Forever check yes on that job application. Be denied financial aid for school. To not be allowed to vote.

Not every felon is a crime driven sociopath. Many are addicted...

Some are falsely found guilty.

Terrible things happen to the most ordinary of people. Your son or daughter. Your best friend....etc.

Yeah right, never happen to me.

Dont take things for granted.
posted by captainsohler at 6:19 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks FritoKAL
posted by captainsohler at 6:21 PM on October 8, 2008


I guess I take a nuanced view. While I understand some of the theory behind removing the ability to vote from convicted felons I do believe there are significant problems with the criminal justice system that has resulted in a disproportionate number of individuals from minority and lower socio-economic backgrounds loosing the right to vote. That this seems to largely coincide with the drug war and targeted sentencing (a small amount of crack or crystal meth is a much higher minimum sentence than powder cocaine). The result is that I believe that there should be a national policy for determining whether a felon and be re-enfranchised. To have it handled on a state by state basis seems to be an inferior method for dealing with the situation.
posted by vuron at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2008


I've always thought that "having paid your debt to society" should mean that the slate (although not the record) was wiped clean. The idea that the right to own a gun is also permanently revoked is new to me, but even though I'm not a huge supporter of the right to own guns, it seems wrong in the same way. The idea behind it makes sense, of course...guns are dangerous and why allow them to someone who just got out of jail for committing a violent crime?
[Maybe a decent compromise would be that "not allowed to have a gun for X years" is part of the sentence. Maybe X is longer than the prison sentence; maybe, depending on the crime, X equals the rest of your life (i.e. a life sentence of not owning guns, because of how you used them to commit your particular crime).]
But I just don't think it's right to consider voting dangerous. In the small-d democratic worldview, isn't the right to have a voice (however small) in one's government practically the same as being human?
I mean, voting *is* dangerous, but not the way guns are. If we can allow Bush supporters to vote, surely we can allow ex-felons to vote.
posted by uosuaq at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2008


I typically like to place things in a relative scale. You know, compared to one thing, what's this other thing? As a general process, it can help restore perspective to things like sentencing guidelines, age of consent, and so forth.

So, let's say we believe that an ex-con should not be able to vote. Let's take it as a given, maybe because they lack moral reasoning, or they have forfeited the right to join society. Awesome, everyone with me? Convicted felons should not be able to vote. Now ...

If I cannot trust someone to responsibly cast a vote, a teeny-weenie influence on even local politics, and an almost immeasurably small potential change in national politics (as important as the eventual outcome may be, it vanishes multiplied against the ability to alter said outcome), something so completely piddling and without threat to life or limb, should I trust them to:

* Consume a carefully rotted organic compound which not only kills brain cells left and right, but additionally is known to impair judgment and even motor functions

* Manage a parcel of land, on which they could, say, bury toxic waste in exchange for under-the-table cash handed to them by ecologically non-compliant corporations looking for a quick dump of some nasty, green-glowing barrels

* Purchase a box cutter, capable of bringing down entire planes into buildings loaded with upstanding citizens

* Have employees, whose very livelihood might depend on the clearly erratic whims of said felon

* Borrow tens of thousands of dollars from citizens they will never meet

* Operate a two ton metal contraption hurtling at speeds near that of a cheetah going full bore, far faster than a human as ever run, in extraordinarily close proximity to other similar metal contraptions, all of which have about three sticks of dynamite under the hood

* Create new human life and work under the position of massive influence of the health, operating system, and shaping of said life, for the next, say, eighteen years

Well, I'd have to say that if I could not trust someone to vote, I certainly would be even more uncomfortable trusting them to do any of the other things on that list. In terms of priorities of actual danger to society, I think these are fairly self-evident. Be consistent, at least. If someone cannot vote, never let them handle cash, do anything but push a broom, drive, own a home or business, borrow money, drink a beer, or have kids again, because all of these items pose far more of a risk. Sterilize, castrate (they could spread disease), and ship them off to an island where they can only serve as a danger to gull dropping-striped rocks and one another, because the felon cannot so much as be granted the trust to, ah, root for their favorite team — that's what so much of politics is to the vast bulk of humanity.

Singling out voting, therefore, appears to me, at the very least, as spiteful and puerile, and at its most, as Machiavellian; disenfranchisement is simply another facet of the systematic wresting of the ability to create change from those who might want anything besides the status quo. Where on the spectrum the true motivations lie is not something I can know, but I can suggest that this particular denial is inconsistent with a reasonable system of priorities.
posted by adipocere at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2008 [12 favorites]


How about they join the military to earn it back?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 6:39 PM on October 8, 2008


Not much of a democracy if your adult citizens are not allowed to vote, is it?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I believe that many felony convictions are grounds for being excluded from military service. While the idea of penal legions might seem appropriate in a modern professional military such a system would likely do much more harm than good. Although it would certainly help solve some of the issues with recruitment...
posted by vuron at 6:45 PM on October 8, 2008


I believe in Monopoly the rule is that you can still collect rent if you are in jail.

Just sayin'.
posted by salishsea at 6:56 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Right to Vote

"Heather Sticka voted for the first time in the 1996 presidential election. Then she fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up taking part in a bank robbery. After her conviction, she lost the right to vote.

Heather hasn't cast a ballot in twelve years. But her home state of Nebraska now allows felons who have completed their sentences to vote. As she tells Dick, her dream of finally feeling that she's a citizen again is about to come true."

from "The Story", which I heard yesterday on Chicago Public Radio - audio from the short interview at the link
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2008


After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry
A report on state legal barriers facing people with criminal records


The LAC Report Card grades and ranks every state. . .

De Facto Disenfranchisement
posted by mlis at 7:03 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


While the idea of penal legions might seem appropriate

What has to break in you before this seems appropriate?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:07 PM on October 8, 2008


Preventing felons from owning guns makes sense because it helps protect people should said felon decide to use the guns to commit crime.

Disenfranchising them, on the other hand, simply serves to prevent them from participating in society, reinforces any preexisting sense of social marginalization that they may have felt and actively discourages good citizenship.


I don't buy this. Preventing felons from owning legal guns not only increases their sense of disenfranchisement and discourages good citizenship, it also hampers their ability to legally defend themselves and their family, increases the chance that they will become involved in the black market, and thus makes it more likely that they will "decide to use the guns to commit crime" (if the gun you keep in the nightstand is already a felony in and of itself, simply because you've had a felony conviction before, what's to stop you from using it?) As others said above, it's not like you can keep people from arming themselves, anyway, so I think we have an interest in keeping felons legally armed rather than the alternative.

IMHO, preemptive "let's protect people should said felon decide to blah blah blah" decisions are harmful, both to individuals and society. We have laws against shootings, laws against voter fraud, and laws against perjury. If felons can't obey the same laws every other American must follow, then arrest them and put them back in jail, but the idea that we should essentially make up special reasons to arrest them is disgusting. This is one of the reasons why we have an increasingly disenfranchised and disadvantaged population, and I don't think that's a positive thing. I'm not a fan of thoughtcrime, pre-crime, or double-jeopardy.

When large percentages of our "felons" were arrested for victimless, non-violent crimes, and when peaceful, mainstream Americans can and do find themselves convicted of felonies, the "these criminal types might shoot someone" argument falls a little flat... and even if it were a valid concern, you'd think that treating ex-cons like citizens and not like criminals would be a priority, especially since people have a way of living up (or down) to society's expectations.

To me, it seems entirely obvious what this is about, and it's not protection, at least not for you and me.
posted by vorfeed at 7:32 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


The FPP was a little misleading. In most US states, except Kentucky and Virginia, the linked map implies that felons are permitted to vote, once their sentence has been served. Vermont and Maine even allow people serving a sentence to vote.

Nuh-uh. Read again. "Complete your sentence" is actually what is misleading here.

In most states - 35, if you count correctly - you are not permitted to vote as soon as you are released from prison. Probation and parole tend to last for years, and sometimes decades, after incarceration. 20 states (including Vermont and Maine) allow people "serving a sentence" to vote.
posted by lunit at 7:38 PM on October 8, 2008


I don't know if these statistics exist nationally (anyone?), but in Rhode Island, before the law was amended in 2006 to allow parolees and people on probation to vote (it used to be in the category with 20 states), this law translated to 1 in 5 black men statewide being disenfranchised.

1 in 5 black men statewide.

Here's the report. This is a bit of a self-link - I work there.
posted by lunit at 7:44 PM on October 8, 2008


"Remember when we all (or rather, 12 of us) felt we had to lock you in a cage?"

Remember when we all let you out?

The notion that someone who has once made a bad decision will always make bad decisions is an example of the gambler's fallacy. While you can argue that recidivism rates imply an ongoing lack of civic duty, arguing that recidivism is caused by "moral turpitude" or what-have-you is making a rather large and tautological set of assumptions. That's easily rebutted too—if someone continues to make immoral or illegal choices, then the answer is to punish them with more prison. If their break with society does not rise to the level of requiring their removal from it by force, then we should seek to integrate as much as possible—for reasons both of maximizing liberty and forging a common America.

I know felons too. I imagine that it's like knowing women who have been raped, or people who are gay—everyone knows people without knowing these things about them. I know a felon who runs a Mexican restaurant and has raised three kids, one of the hardest working men I know. He dealt cocaine and got busted, did his time, and has a successful small business and is a pillar of the community. I have a friend whose dad was convicted of dealing marijuana in the early '70s and is now working his way through grad school. Should Bill Ayers also be denied the vote? Is that more fair than, say, denying folks who have supported secession, like Todd Palin?

Moral character is too subjective a term to build a law upon, just as rehabilitation cannot be the only criterion for prison sentences. Some felons will find their moral compasses re-magnetized through their prison experiences—surely, you can't argue that every prison religious conversion is a ploy. But every man who converts does so within his own conscience, and cannot reasonably be judged on the sincerity of his convictions by the state.

I understand why people feel that restrictions on voting rights for felons feels like it makes sense, but it does not make sense.
posted by klangklangston at 8:09 PM on October 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


It's a punishment. It's part of what you lose because you committed a felony and got caught. What's wrong with punishing convicted felons?

Punish them once, not for their entire lives. Just stupid. This assumes that everyone commits crimes because they want to live "outside of society", which I think I read in this thread, which is simply not true.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:21 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


"In most states - 35, if you count correctly - you are not permitted to vote as soon as you are released from prison. Probation and parole tend to last for years, and sometimes decades, after incarceration. 20 states (including Vermont and Maine) allow people "serving a sentence" to vote."

God bless our 55 states.
posted by klangklangston at 8:22 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Should Bill Ayers also be denied the vote?

Is he a convicted felon?
posted by Cyrano at 8:30 PM on October 8, 2008


If an ex-felon can not be trusted to vote, he sure as hell can not be trusted in public. Either keep them locked up, or give them their full rights back. If that requires supporting them in some manner until they can be trusted, so be it: make educational, employment, and religious/social standards part of the release program. Either rehabilitate to the point they can be trusted to vote as a responsible citizen, or keep them locked up.

Point of note: we allow idiots, racists, pimps, wall street bankers, and other untrustworthy people to vote.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:33 PM on October 8, 2008


What I don't get is how what a person has done in life affects their vote in any way. Is a murderer's vote against the school levy somehow more evil than mine?

It's not like law-abiding citizens get a ballot that reads...
[] Obama
[] McCain

and felons get a ballot that reads
[] Obama
[] McCain
[] Legalized Bank Robbery!!

The psychopath has millions of chances to screw things up out in the world, but in the voting booth, he has the same choices as everyone else.

Seems to me like voting is the only right we should allow felons to have.
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:41 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thinking about how important having the vote is, to those that lost the right and then regained it when the laws changed or they moved to a different state, perhaps it would be appropriate to restore a released felon's vote after the next vote

That is, get released, get passed-over for one election, then get to vote. Part of the release program: you're first trusted for the little things, then trusted for the bigger things as time goes on.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 PM on October 8, 2008


God bless our 55 states.

Think harder; they're not mutually exclusive.

In 35 states, all but the 15 states in the two darkest shades of blue, you at least have to finish either parole or parole and probation before you can vote.

In 20 states, those 15 plus the 5 in the lightest shade of blue, you can vote while you're still "serving a sentence" - that is, in prison, on probation, or on parole. In the other 30, you must wait until your "sentence" is complete, if you can vote at all.
posted by lunit at 8:44 PM on October 8, 2008


What klangklangston said. Eloquent.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2008


Now if only we could imprison the felons who keep running in elections.

Anyone who thinks all felons are created equal is a moron, or ignorant. That dude who gets buzzed on the Mary Jane? He can't vote. But you, the drunk-driving alcoholic who just hasn't been caught yet (or who's bought your way out of jail), you're ok by us! Why? Well, because you're disproportionately white, that's white? *smile-ping!*
posted by Eideteker at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't see why it's such a threat to allow felons to vote. Do we really expect to see a League of Felon Voters pop up voting to destroy society every chance they get? It's not like if we allow felons to vote drugs will be legalized and the sentences for robberies reduced. I don't see how felons specifically threaten societal well-being by casting a ballot beyond this nebulous argument that they've proven they have bad judgment. I'd like some actual, concrete impacts about the harms caused by felons voting. I haven't looked too deep, but I haven't found any yet, and it just seems like a bad idea to start a dangerous practice like permanently disenfranchising people that carries huge harms in and of itself when it's not proven to solve any harm in the first place.

This is the NFL debate topic for november/december for some high school debaters (I love it when metafilter intersects with real life!), and I really want my kids to open their anti-disenfranchisement speeches with this quote by 2004 Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors: "As frank as I can be, we're opposed to [restoring voting rights] because felons don't tend to vote Republican"* because it really just freaks me out.
posted by lilac girl at 9:11 PM on October 8, 2008


It's not like law-abiding citizens get a ballot that reads...
[] Obama
[] McCain

and felons get a ballot that reads
[] Obama
[] McCain
[] Legalized Bank Robbery!!


In our current economic downfall, I think a lot of people might vote for bank robbery. I hear he pledged not to raise taxes.
posted by graventy at 9:44 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if they've been linked already, but Kentuckians for the the Commonwealth is an excellent organization advocating for the rights of felons to vote in Kentucky.

Please throw $10 or $100 or $1000 their way if you can afford others their freedom to vote.
posted by eustatic at 9:51 PM on October 8, 2008


Legalized Bank Robbery

Judging by the name, this must be one of the Palin's children?
posted by maxwelton at 9:54 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


here are some stories from the ktfc website.

digital stories
posted by eustatic at 10:00 PM on October 8, 2008


Here is the dichotomy of America.

People like Smedleyman see the best in people.

People like Cool Papa Bell see only the worst.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:09 PM on October 8, 2008


Why do individual states get to choose who can or cannot vote in a federal election?
posted by jeffmik at 10:10 PM on October 8, 2008


Why do individual states get to choose who can or cannot vote in a federal election?

Because rights like these are reserved to the states until the Surpreme Court finds them unconstitutional, which it won't anytime soon. It is blatantly unconstitutional though, by any reasonable analysis. What could be more "cruel and unusual" then essentially depriving a person of citizenship for life, even after they have served their time?

And that is the point. These people have SERVED THEIR TIME. That's why it's called a "debt to society." They pay it, and then the account is square. They are once again citizens, the equal of anyone else. These attempts to extend punishment for a lifetime are cruel, Un-American, immoral by any reasonable standard, and I find them personally revolting. It has nothing at all to do with justice and everything to do with kicking those who are down.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:28 PM on October 8, 2008


That's a helluva good question. Is one an American citizen first and foremost, or a State citizen?

As a Canuck, I'd be really surprised if my Provincial government had any influence on my ability to cast a Federal ballot. If it can, I would want to know.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:32 PM on October 8, 2008


To put it another way:

Why were the southern states able to disenfranchise such a large portion of their African-American population up until the 1960s? The same reason as this is happening now: Because a few evil people wanted it that way, and everyone else stood back and let it happen.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:34 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is one an American citizen first and foremost, or a State citizen?

States are in charge of elections, regardless of the level of office being voted for. Thus you have things like Florida in 2000, and "poll taxes" and all manner of other shenanigans in the segregated south. They can do pretty much what they want, if it doesn't violate federal law or the Constitution.

Remember that Electors from each state elect the president, so in a certain sense the state is casting votes, not people in the state. As a Californian, I only have a say in who will be President in the sense that i help decide who California's electors vote for.

Of course the system has it flaws, but I don't think the federal government could administer elections, even if it wanted to. Where would the staff and infrastructure come from? And how would you feel about the machinations of the upcoming election being controlled by the current Chief Executive of the United States?

Oh and remember the recount fiasco in Florida? That was one state. Imagine that on a national level.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:41 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Two words: Australian style. Elections done right.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:09 PM on October 8, 2008


Readdress of greivences.

Is there anything more fundamental to petitioning the government for the readress of grienvences than the right to vote? Who better to advise the government as to the arbitrariness and unfairness of a law than the victim of it? Is this something to be superceeded by notions of punishment and keeping unsavory sorts from participating in democracy? Exactly what does this say about a society that allows this to continue?
posted by quintessencesluglord at 1:51 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thus you have things like Florida in 2000, and "poll taxes" ....

Poll taxes are actually unconstitutional, FWIW.


For the legislature, Article 1, Section 4:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
For president (I think this applies) Article 2, Section 2:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
posted by The Eponymous Pseudonymous Rex at 3:29 AM on October 9, 2008


Uh, most of that was meant to address "Why do individual states get to choose who can or cannot vote in a federal election?"
posted by The Eponymous Pseudonymous Rex at 3:30 AM on October 9, 2008


A large number of felon voting bans were put in place between 1860 and 1891 almost in a panic about the ‘racial threat’ blacks presented as voters. I wrote a piece on this but I can't locate the full text with all the citations at the moment.
posted by cashman at 5:33 AM on October 9, 2008


One reason these laws remain on the books is that the 14th Amendment explicitly sanctions them. Section 2 lays out punishments (reduced seats in the House) for states that practice voter disenfranchisement, but makes an allowance for rebels and criminals:

...in Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974) the Court invoked Section 2 to justify the disenfranchisement of felons by the states. [wiki]

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Any Civil War scholars here? The language of this exception ("participation in rebellion"), read in the post-bellum context in which the amendment was constructed (1866), suggests its design was to punish former Confederates.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:44 AM on October 9, 2008


As a Canuck, I'd be really surprised if my Provincial government had any influence on my ability to cast a Federal ballot. If it can, I would want to know.

Well, not so much now, but check out voting rights history and you'll find numerous examples. Elections Canada's website says "...in 10 of the 13 federal general elections held between 1867 and 1920, the electorate varied from province to province, with eligibility determined by provincial law." This led to some really funky rules. In Nova Scotia you couldn't vote if you were a lighthousekeeper. Same for Quebec sheriffs, anybody working in any capacity for a candidate in Ontario, or a teacher in British Columbia. BC is a particularly interesting example, because the Dominion Elections Act of 1920 excluded from federal voting anyone ineligible from provincial voting for racial reasons. BC was the only province with such an exclusion, as white Europeans accounted for less than 30% of the population, and they had specific exclusions for First Nations people and anyone of "Asian" origin. Women didn't get the right to vote in Quebec until 1940 (although there are cases of women voting in Quebec pre-Confederation, based on land ownership). First Nations people couldn't vote before 1960 unless they renounced their Indian status (or served in the military, but only while a war was going on). We tend to think of these small groups of people gaining the right to vote, but we also forget that it took a long time for white men without property to get the right to vote. Not a single vote took place in Cape Breton prior to 1820 (out of a 20,000 population), because the Crown technically owned all the land. British citizens once had the right to vote in Canadian elections. Judges and people with mental disabilities only gained the right to vote in 1993, and inmates in 2004. I wouldn't be surprised with a serious push in the near future to lower the voting age to 16.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:40 AM on October 9, 2008


drjimmy11 writes "Of course the system has it flaws, but I don't think the federal government could administer elections, even if it wanted to. Where would the staff and infrastructure come from? And how would you feel about the machinations of the upcoming election being controlled by the current Chief Executive of the United States?"

But other countries do run their elections systems centrally. I'm not sure I know of any good examples illustrating why this wouldn't work.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:54 AM on October 9, 2008


"Is he a convicted felon?"

You're right; I was thinking of Bernadine Dohrn. Ayers had his charges thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.
posted by klangklangston at 9:18 AM on October 9, 2008


“I mean, voting *is* dangerous, but not the way guns are.”

Really?
Even the most dangerous serial killers only make the hundreds . And usually usually without firearms

“ ‘criminals have been shown to consider themselves as outside of society so should not be allowed to participate in it.’

‘And yet, not outside enough to avoid paying taxes.’”

They still get mail, drive on roads, get fire protection (and at least are *supposed* to get police protection) their kids can go to the local school, etc. etc. right?

“Why is the person who dealt pot, or stole a car, or did meth, or robbed a bank unable to change and is marked indelibly for life as irrational and unable to think, but every single other type of mistake means you are able to make decisions rationally and reasonably?”

There is a difference between making rational or irrational decisions predicated on trying to do the right thing and making a mistake - and making a decision knowingly doing the wrong thing. There’s a difference between being selfish (being a businessman, say) and being willfully predatory towards other citizens (the Enron folks, say).

I’d respond then - where is the line drawn from the other side? Do we allow traitors in our midst, again and again and again?
We have lawmakers that clearly serve nothing but themselves or their Plutonic masters - should they, if convicted of beguiling the public, be allowed into public office again? Should people who clearly have no respect for the law (more than bank robbers - say voting fraud folks) be allowed back into the voting process?

But again, I cede the point on “people can change” as a matter of practical necessity.
I don’t have to believe it, or like it, or even think someone deserves a second chance.
But I take it as a matter of course that the state mechanisms do have to assume that. (Or rather should - which would eliminate someone losing their voting rights in the first place).

“The problem with this position is the fallacy of confusing following the letter of the law with moral reasoning.”

I (mildly) disagree. I’ll grant moral reasoning and the law don’t always match up (and I did cover that in terms of, say, civil disobedience) but certain criminal acts - many of them in fact - are blatant violations of the most elementary moral reasoning - e.g. don’t steal.
So it’s only moral reasoning at it’s most gross and fundamental point - ergo it’s a question of responsibility and the argument is predicated (as has been said above by someone other than me) on voting being a responsibility.

I agree. I don’t agree that it’s a responsibility that you can have automatically restored to you. Much like we ultimately take away the driver’s licenses of repeat DUI offenders.
(Driving is a ‘privilege.’ It shouldn’t be, but it is. But that’s not what I’m driving at - I’m driving at manifest and obvious behavior that violates basic responsibility and concern for others as analogous to reckless and irresponsible behavior such as driving drunk. If you’ve proven you can’t handle driving, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive. If you’ve proven you can’t maintain even the most elementary responsible behavior - so to should other rights based on responsible behavior be restricted.)

But again - I don’t think that ultimately works in favor of everyone’s welfare, freedom, et.al. (I’m pro-choice and pro-gun for the same core reasons.)

I suppose I’m saying, they don’t *deserve* to get the right to vote back (if indeed, it should have been restricted in the first place - another aguement). But they should get it back as a matter of course roughly because I don’t want the state assuming that power.
In part it implies the state can en masse determine who is morally responsible and who isn’t.
(My argument states commiting a crime is indicative of irresponsible behavior - and it is - however, and somewhat parallel with your point - it doesn’t mean they in fact are irresponsible. Perhaps they’re stealing or dealing drugs, etc to feed their families. But we still convict them and send them to jail.)

Counter arguments within the same sphere then imply greater apparatus of the state. So: “Oh, we can’t tell who’s really unreformed eh? Well, lets make SURE they are.” Or “Oh, we can’t tell, can’t we? What if we surveil them all the time?” Or “Oh...make everyone take a morality test” And then of course - who sets the standard, etc. Or the test is a joke, but it still can be used to deny certain individuals their rights - perhaps politically (such as the TSA ‘no fly’ list).

“Morally deficient? That's the hat you want to hang this on? Really?”

Someone who sticks up a bank can’t be said to be morally deficient?
I’m not saying they are. But we must assume they are if we are to convict them, no?
If the guy sticks up a bank in order to save a busload of nuns (in some bizarre Dan Ackroydian world) then the jury and/or judge is going to recognize there are extenuating circumstances.

But even if a guy sticks up a bank because his family is hungry - we send him to prison.
The “we can’t determine what’s in his heart” thing works both ways.

We can’t. So, to be fair, we send everyone who is convicted of sticking up a bank to jail.

Of course, all my counterarguments stand - for exactly the same reasons the “count prisoners for the US Census in the county where the prison is located” racket works.

“Should Bill Ayers/(Bernardine Dohrn) also be denied the vote?”

Perfect example. They look dangerous. You have to lock them up (given the prosecutor isn’t himself a lawbreaking prick) if they do something harmful. And yet - their motives were in service of society (their passion might have been a bit over the top.)

And though I disagree with them (radicals) there’s no way you can deny someone like that the vote.

Indeed - the more passionate they are, and the more desparate, all the more they should be engaged. Jean Valjean is a classic (albiet fictional) example.

But I’m thinking more Barack Obama. There’s a guy who could have grown up with a chip on his shoulder. Maybe taken a misstep, deliberately or out of desparation and wound up in jail, and have spent the rest of his life trying to put himself back together.

He didn’t - but if he did - look at the potential we would have lost. Running for president aside - the man’s mind is incredibly valuable - who would have thought such a person could come from such a background?

Well, the apparatus of government should assume such.
If it doesn’t - it is then either allowing such fertile minds to lie fallow in the field...
Or worse - is in opposition and salting the Earth.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2008


Is one an American citizen first and foremost, or a State citizen?

The first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment says: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

So, um, yes.
posted by oaf at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2008


Remember when America was the land of second chances? I sorta do.
posted by hellbient at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2008


(I only read the first 80 or so comments, so sorry if it has been said before)

I always thought that convicted felons are kept from voting because they are disproportionally black and therefore vote disproportionally Democrat. If convicted felons were allowed to vote, Bush would not be president today.

And the Dems don't have the balls to do anything about it.
posted by sour cream at 1:02 PM on October 9, 2008


Can I just add to the idea that felons won’t automatically vote Armageddon into being that they may also have a unique insight into worthwhile causes that others may not give a damn about? Like prisoners’ rights? Cause your country (and mine) seems to be fast becoming a society of Things I Care About Because They Could Happen To Me vs. Who Cares/Throw Away The Key.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:36 PM on October 9, 2008


You want to revoke a freed felon's right to vote?
Cool. But you should also revoke his duty to pay taxes.
I'm not sure where I heard it. Russia maybe. Taxation without representation. Or some such.
posted by notreally at 6:42 PM on October 9, 2008


This makes me wonder why we need felons at all.
posted by magic curl at 7:08 PM on October 9, 2008


Nice post lunit!
posted by DesbaratsDays at 7:31 PM on October 9, 2008


I appreciate that dirigibleman, but I don’t think it’s that simple or cut and dried. I have no idea what CPB has in his heart.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:56 PM on October 10, 2008


Judge rules to halt removal of voters.
posted by cashman at 8:11 AM on October 14, 2008


Here's a PBS program about Right to Vote.
posted by lunit at 7:11 AM on October 20, 2008


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