One in five African Americans in Virginia is disenfranchised
April 22, 2016 10:52 AM   Subscribe

...until now? "Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing his Republican-run Legislature. The action overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans." SLNYT: Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons
posted by Jacqueline (93 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in Virginia so I'm trying to find out how I can volunteer to help register these newly eligible voters.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:55 AM on April 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement, issued by the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.”

Wow.

Anyway, glad to hear of this, and hoping that the trend continues.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


And just in case anyone doubts that Virginia's voter restrictions were targeted at black Americans, from the article:
In researching the provisions, advisers to the governor turned up a 1906 report quoting Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator (and later, a member of Congress who was an author of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that regulated banks) as saying they would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
posted by Jacqueline at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2016 [87 favorites]


Tying the denial of voting rights to felons to race issues is something I have not heard before, but now that I have heard it, it makes complete sense.

If you've paid your debt to society for your crime by doing your time and getting through the process of imprisonment and parole, I don't see why you shouldn't be allowed to vote. Hell, I don't see why you should be denied voting even while still in prison. Citizens are citizens. We don't deny voting rights to people who are assholes within the law, why should we deny those rights to people whose assholery extends to being outside the law, and being caught and sentenced for being an asshole?

Let every citizen vote. Period. It's a constitutional right, and I don't see anywhere in the Constitution where it says "these rights will be rescinded if you fuck up with the Law".
posted by hippybear at 11:03 AM on April 22, 2016 [45 favorites]


I live in Virginia so I'm trying to find out how I can volunteer to help register these newly eligible voters.

If anyone else is interested in this, it looks like there's a mandatory training program.

So I guess I'll complete the online training and then contact who? my local NAACP chapter? the (ugh) Democratic Party? to find out about scheduled voter registration drives targeting the previously disenfranchised?
posted by Jacqueline at 11:07 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'd try the League of Women Voters, in many states they're the largest non-partisan voter registration group.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [23 favorites]


Hell of a great way to celebrate Confederate History Month.
posted by Ndwright at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [75 favorites]


Virginia’s Constitution has prohibited felons from voting since the Civil War; the restrictions were expanded in 1902, as part of a package that included poll taxes and literacy tests.

Gosh what could that history be about?

Anyway, this is fantastic news.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


Jacqueline: maybe contact the reporter who wrote the article and see if he knows where to direct you?
posted by hippybear at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2016


Tying the denial of voting rights to felons to race issues is something I have not heard before, but now that I have heard it, it makes complete sense.

At this point, it's essentially a 100% certainty that any denial of voting rights can be tied to race issues. Almost the minute the Shelby v Holder decision was handed down, pretty much the entire former Confederacy passed voter suppression laws. Anyone trying to tell you that these laws are not totally fucking racist is probably lying.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:10 AM on April 22, 2016 [55 favorites]


The trick now will be convincing many of these people that they really and truly do have the right to vote, and getting them to do so.

I worked on GOTV during the Kerry and Obama campaigns in OH in '04/'08. One of most the persistent and pernicious myths that I encountered while doing phonebanking and door-to-door were from ex-criminal offenders (mostly felons, but also a few people who simply had multiple arrests or jail time) who were convinced that they weren't allowed to vote at all. Some of them were even fearful of getting into more trouble if they showed up to the polls.

For what it's worth, OH still bans currently-imprisoned felons from voting, (grumble grumble), but anybody who's served their time is absolutely free to exercise their proper rights as a citizen. But not enough people are aware of that fact, or they've been deliberately deceived about it.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


Anyone trying to tell you that these laws are not totally fucking racist is probably lying.

Nobody has ever tried to tell me anything about these laws intersecting with race. Ever, once, in my entire life. Now that I have heard this, it is impossible to ignore. But really, up until April 22, 2016, my entire view on these laws (which I have never supported) has been "oh, you're a fuckup, you don't get to participate in the system anymore". The race thing had never even entered any conversation or my thought processes before.
posted by hippybear at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Let every citizen vote. Period. It's a constitutional right, and I don't see anywhere in the Constitution where it says "these rights will be rescinded if you fuck up with the Law".

Depends on how you read it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Can any legal experts explain why it's constitutional to deny felons (incarcerated or released) the right to vote? [Oops, comment above posted a few seconds earlier - thanks.]
posted by twsf at 11:16 AM on April 22, 2016


The race thing had never even entered any conversation or my thought processes before.

Today's lesson in white privilege, I suppose.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:16 AM on April 22, 2016 [16 favorites]


I'll cop to it. I always thought it was weird that we didn't allow felons to vote, but maybe a half dozen years ago some article I read tied to to voter suppression, and I was like, oh shit.

It was my privilege all right, and I'm glad to be disabused of my ignorance.
posted by maxsparber at 11:18 AM on April 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


The race thing had never even entered any conversation or my thought processes before.

I find that surprising, because I know from your comments that you're a very well informed member of the site.

You should know that white nationalists look for every opportunity to disenfranchise black voters. It literally is as simple as combing through data and trying to figure out legal ways to keep black voters from voting.

When they figured out that African-Americans were less likely to have a government ID than whites, the "ID to combat voter fraud" idea materialized. Same thing goes with choosing and staffing polling places, factoring in reliance on public transportation, to sending mailings that say "if you have any warrants, you will be arrested if you try to vote", I've even heard about events targeted to African-Americans being scheduled on voting days on the other side of town etc. etc. etc. anything that has been thought of has probably been tried.
posted by cell divide at 11:19 AM on April 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


Well that is some good news. Taking away voting rights from felons never made much sense to me. Like hippybear, my feelings are a citizen is a citizen. If for no other reason that it becomes a monumentally more difficult task for citizenry to get rid of unjust laws when they can't participate in the political system.

Also agreed! Prisoners should be allowed to vote while in prison. I know it won't happen anytime soon, it's a much bigger hill to climb. But I can't stop thinking what a different world we would live in if prisoners were suddenly a voting block politicians had an immediate need to pay attention to.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:19 AM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Maryland too!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


The recent Michael Moore film pointed out that in some places (Denmark, if I recall right), prisoners actually vote first, and politicians will go into prisons to woo their votes.

I just can't even imagine it.
posted by maxsparber at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


Today's lesson in white privilege, I suppose.

Maybe, possibly. I won't deny being a white male approaching 50 who was raised in a community with very few black families (although my elementary school was 2/3 hispanic). One thing about being on MetaFilter is that I get to learn to grow and expand my worldview.
posted by hippybear at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2016 [28 favorites]


"Can any legal experts explain why it's constitutional to deny felons (incarcerated or released) the right to vote?"

The controlling case law is Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974), and the decision goes into the Constitutional history quite a bit. I'm not familiar enough with the case to summarize it or I would, it's got a lot of weird procedural stuff going on so it's pretty dull in places.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I believe that there is a small subset of crimes that should disenfranchise the criminal for life. They include election fraud, voter intimidation, vote suppression, and similar crimes against the electoral process itself. Otherwise, you keep your right to vote.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


My comment was definitely not meant as a slight to you, hippybear.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:25 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyone trying to tell you that these laws are not totally fucking racist is probably lying.

They're pretty much either lying or have been lied to.
posted by clockzero at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Eh, I'd let anyone vote, regardless of what they were convicted of, because the criminal justice system is not apolitical. People are wrongly convicted and certain groups are targeted for disproportionately high levels of arrest and prosecution all the time.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Let every citizen vote. Period. It's a constitutional right, and I don't see anywhere in the Constitution where it says "these rights will be rescinded if you fuck up with the Law".

You might have missed the part of the constitution that allows you to be enslaved if you fuck up with the law. Perhaps because it is in an amendment that people commonly misinterpret as abolishing slavery when what it does is restrict it to convicts.
posted by srboisvert at 11:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've been celebrating this important change all day. (I work in this field) Can't get the smile off my face. I'm so proud of my Gov!
posted by ezust at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2016 [24 favorites]


People are wrongly convicted and certain groups are targeted for disproportionately high levels of arrest and prosecution all the time.

And there's aggressive sentencing, and stupid laws, and three strikes, and and and.

The bankers who brought us the Great Recession all get to vote; so does Joe Arpaio; so do the cops who beat and kill people; so do the people who send death and rape threats to women on the internet. If we're going to let those people vote - mass murdering war criminal Henry Kissinger gets to vote - then I personally don't think anyone has a leg to stand on in denying to vote to felons.
posted by Frowner at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


*points Jacqueline at ezust and hopes they have a MeMail conversation about registering people*
posted by hippybear at 11:36 AM on April 22, 2016


The deeper conversation is definitely about targeted disenfranchisement, but I'm still not quite sure what the (facile) argument against people with felonies voting is as it applies to citizenship, rather than punishment. Are people claiming they are worried that e.g. some sort of bloc of convicted murderers will vote in a pro-murder candidate who will let them murder freely? I mean that's literally what is happening with white-collar crime, but the people who bring up white-collar crime as the relevant plague on the nation we need to address don't tend to overlap that much with the people who don't want felons voting, from what I can tell.
posted by griphus at 11:38 AM on April 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


*points Jacqueline at ezust and hopes they have a MeMail conversation about registering people*

lol i already memailed him
posted by Jacqueline at 11:39 AM on April 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also I am relatively well-informed about such things and until I saw this article I thought that felons not being able to vote was, in fact, part of the Constitution.
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I believe that there is a small subset of crimes that should disenfranchise the criminal for life. They include election fraud, voter intimidation, vote suppression, and similar crimes against the electoral process itself. Otherwise, you keep your right to vote.

I think this should bar you from working on campaigns or in polling places, but not from voting.

Similarly, I have no problem with barring embezzlers from working in any kind of financial services, but they should still get to vote.

Voting should be for all citizens. Even the assholes.
posted by emjaybee at 11:40 AM on April 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


Are people claiming they are worried that e.g. sort of bloc of convicted murderers will vote in a pro-murder candidate who will let them murder freely?

You have just written the prequel to The Purge.
posted by maxsparber at 11:40 AM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


we need a constitutional amendment saying that all citizens have the right to vote - and let the republicans argue against it if they like
posted by pyramid termite at 11:41 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


we need a constitutional amendment saying that all citizens have the right to vote - and let the republicans argue against it if they like

We do. It's called the 15th amendment. But apparently amendments are ranked by number and then sub-ranked by clause. That's why the 14th amendment's section two overrides the 15th and Ted Cruz thinks the 1st amendment outranks the 14th and 9th amendments.
posted by Talez at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


The deeper conversation is definitely about targeted disenfranchisement, but I'm still not quite sure what the (facile) argument against people with felonies voting is as it applies to citizenship, rather than punishment.

One of the arguments is that people who have committed felonies have been convicted by a jury of their peers of having taken grievous action against society in general, to the point that we feel it necessary to otherwise violate their rights by taking their property and/or restricting their physical liberty, and that voting is part of that society and those rights (as is also possessing a firearm). But that justification is very much cobbled together after the fact by people who think that it's more of a philosophical argument than a useful policy.
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: cobbled together after the fact by people who think that it's more of a philosophical argument than a useful policy.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:50 AM on April 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


we need a constitutional amendment saying that all citizens have the right to vote - and let the republicans argue against it if they like

We do. It's called the 15th amendment.


The Fifteenth Amendment does not say this. It says that "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" are no longer disqualifiers. If it said that all citizens had the right to vote, we wouldn't need the Nineteenth or Twenty-Sixth Amendments.
posted by Etrigan at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


The Fifteenth Amendment does not say this. It says that "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" are no longer disqualifiers. If it said that all citizens had the right to vote, we wouldn't need the Nineteenth or Twenty-Sixth Amendments.

Previous servitude is prison. It doesn't say gender or age which is why we need nineteenth and twenty sixth.
posted by Talez at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2016


we need a constitutional amendment saying that all citizens have the right to vote - and let the republicans argue against it if they like

Oh, they already do. And if you want to see a preview of what they'll say, the Virginia GOP's tweet about the news is perfect.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]



One of the arguments is that people who have committed felonies have been convicted by a jury of their peers of having taken grievous action against society in general, to the point that we feel it necessary to otherwise violate their rights by taking their property and/or restricting their physical liberty, and that voting is part of that society and those rights (as is also possessing a firearm). But that justification is very much cobbled together after the fact by people who think that it's more of a philosophical argument than a useful policy.


But I think that's the legitimating argument - the argument that gets people who don't think very hard about the issue to give it a pass. I'd say there's people for whom voter disenfranchisement is seen as an active good as long as poor people and Black people are disenfranchised, but there's a lot more people for whom the "common sense" of "oh, you committed a crime against the social body" is what lets them avoid think about it. Kind of like the whole "you didn't vote, you don't get to complain" argument - a comforting piety that has a cod-virtuous quality.

There's people who consider this stuff as policy, and people who consider as "let's keep our enemies from voting so as to maintain our power" but "popular wisdom" is what gives those people cover.
posted by Frowner at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Jacqueline: "Today's lesson in white privilege, I suppose."

Just one of the 10K.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


If I am truly one of only 10,000 people in the US who never realized before today that voting rights being denied to felons is at its core a race issue, then the US should have changed its laws a long time ago. 10,000 people isn't even a rounding error when it comes to voting.
posted by hippybear at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyone trying to tell you that these laws are not totally fucking racist is probably lying.

You misspelled "provably."
posted by Gelatin at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


hippybear: The 10,000 is the average number of people hearing about something for the first time on any particular day, not the number of people who have never heard of something. So it's new information to 10,000/day, 3,650,000/year, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2016


I'm really proud of my home state for making moves to fix this screwed-up thing. Because seriously, it's super screwed-up that the Jean Valjean plotline in Les Mis still applies to real life - you can't just do your time and be done with it. And as a state, Virginia has a lot of awful history, some of it quite recent. It's refreshing to hear some good news for once. Y'know, sic semper tyrannis and all that...

I live in Virginia so I'm trying to find out how I can volunteer to help register these newly eligible voters.

Election Protection is a hotline for people who aren't sure how to vote or may have been unfairly denied from voting. I have family members who have volunteered with them and found it a very rewarding and positive experience, and I've worked for an advocacy organization that gives them the thumbs up. And it is a great way, in my opinion, to support efforts like this, because there's this totally crazy coincidence???? where people who get legally or illegally barred from voting are more likely to be people of color???? Wonder how this could have happened...?
posted by capricorn at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Election Protection is a hotline for people who aren't sure how to vote or may have been unfairly denied from voting.

Looks like a great organization but it appears they only take lawyers, paralegals, and law students as volunteers and that you have to volunteer from their call center in DC?
posted by Jacqueline at 12:07 PM on April 22, 2016


There's people who consider this stuff as policy, and people who consider as "let's keep our enemies from voting so as to maintain our power" but "popular wisdom" is what gives those people cover.

Ooh man, I just saw this after posting my comment, and there's such an interesting thing here because you can hide it behind multiple layers of excuses and phony explanations. On some level it's about the false specter of voter fraud, on a deeper level it's about who "deserves" the vote, on a deeper level than that it's about blocking non-Republican votes, but on an even deeper level than that it's totally just about maintaining power in the hands of the powerful i.e. garden variety sexism/racism/classism/transphobia/etc. (I could go into where sexism and transphobia come into voter rights but I believe it would be a derail here.) But you're never going to get anyone to admit that because they can always just go one layer up for an excuse.

Jacqueline - sorry about that! I got all enthused about the org overall and didn't look at the details. :(
posted by capricorn at 12:08 PM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


For all of the attention that the presidential primaries have been getting, it's worth reminding everybody that LOCAL ELECTIONS REALLY MATTER.

Virginia clearly hit a tipping-point a few years ago where the GOP had done all the voter suppression that it could, and still could only barely win elections. The state has been on a steady slide to the left ever since. I wonder how many other states are on a similar cusp.
posted by schmod at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


So happy about this. Dear fellow white folks, if you wanted to keep these policies in place, you shoulda thought twice about convicting all those white people for opiate-related offenses.

Sounds like a number of people on this post might find it interesting to read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which explores the ways that mass incarceration (and its concomitants, like felon disenfranchisement) serve to strip black Americans of their civil rights and ability to participate in society.
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, they already do. And if you want to see a preview of what they'll say, the Virginia GOP's tweet about the news is perfect.
@TerryMcAuliffe literally just gave murders and rapists the right to vote in Virginia.
Ah. The good old Jeffersonian ideal of one-kill-one-vote.
posted by schmod at 12:24 PM on April 22, 2016


Dear fellow white folks, if you wanted to keep these policies in place, you shoulda thought twice about convicting all those white people for opiate-related offenses.

I'm not the biggest fan of Terry McAuliffe, but I don't think his reasoning was "Oh, shit, white people can't vote!"
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


And it's also a reminder that the party you vote for does make a difference. No one was terribly enthusiastic about McAuliffe, because he was practically the model for the DNC, third-way, excessively business-friendly Democrat. And while all that was true... as it turns out, he's pushed anti-discrimination, tried hard to get the Medicare expansion, protected abortion rights, and now pushing back racially discriminatory voter suppression.

It does make a fucking difference, which is why I will be furious at anyone who decides they are too pure to vote for the Democratic nominee in November.
posted by tavella at 12:26 PM on April 22, 2016 [37 favorites]


Whatever cynical speculation I might have in my internal narrative, I think McAuliffe's reasoning is ultimately irrelevant and he should be lauded for doing the right thing here.
posted by indubitable at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I don't think his reasoning was "Oh, shit, white people can't vote!"

Nothing against McAuliffe personally, but I think a lot of the more recent pushback on drug laws and all their consequences (including felon disenfranchisement) has been prompted by their impact on ordinary white people with opiate problems. I think this change falls into that category. Felon disenfranchisement has been a specialist's issue for decades. I remember editing an article on it for a journal in law school and thinking that it was never going to be done away with. Why now? Though I'm sure "the demographics most frequently incarcerated are also most likely to vote Democratic" played a significant role, too.
posted by praemunire at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2016


It does make a fucking difference, which is why I will be furious at anyone who decides they are too pure to vote for the Democratic nominee in November.

Whereas I'm excited that Virginia's trending towards blue because soon I'll be able to actually vote for my party's (the Libertarian Party) nominee myself instead of vote-swapping with a Democrat in Massachusetts again and again. :)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wonderful news!!

I have to admit I am shocked and rather dismayed that folks did not realize that there are active Right to Vote campaigns in many many many states, which have been working hard for decades to get felon disenfranchisement laws overturned. Many of them have also been successful in getting such laws overturned, including some states that allow folks to vote while in prison, and others that allow folks to vote as soon as they get parole or probation. So if your state allows felons to vote at all, it is probably due to the diligent efforts of community organizers and prison abolitionist activists among you. Go find them in a city or state near you!
posted by likeatoaster at 12:43 PM on April 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


Yup. Virginia has been one of the worst states up until now, hence this being a fairly significant news item. It's easier for felons to get their voting rights restored in most other states.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:47 PM on April 22, 2016


There's currently a case in the Iowa Supreme Court in which a woman who served probation for a drug offense is suing to overturn our disenfranchisement rules, which are currently the most restrictive in the country. Anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony is barred for life from voting unless the governor personally restores voting rights, which he doesn't do very often. It's a massive injustice, and I'm hoping the court will do the right thing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:51 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: Kentucky, like Virginia, had a lifelong ban on voting for any convicted felon. Then, this past November, the then-governor signed an executive order restoring voting rights to 140,000 people, after substantial lobbying from progressive groups. Yay!

Then, almost immediately after that, Kentucky went ahead and elected Tea Partier Matt Bevin. And literally one of the first things he did as Governor -- if not the actual First Thing -- was to immediately reverse the executive order, and take away all those rights before they even had a chance to get implemented. Booo.

So I guess the morale of the story is, be careful who you vote for? everything sucks? idk
posted by likeatoaster at 12:51 PM on April 22, 2016 [21 favorites]


Yeah, the same thing happened in Iowa. We elected a Democrat, who restored felons' voting rights, and then we elected a Republican who took them away again. That's actually what happened to the plaintiff in the current court case. She heard that voting rights had been restored and didn't hear that they had been un-restored, so she voted in an uncontested, unanimous local election that she thought she was eligible to vote in. Then our Secretary of State went on a crusade against voter fraud and needed to find some fraudsters to increase his credibility, and she was the person he hit on. She could have gone to prison for years if the jury hadn't basically nullified and refused to convict her. And now she's the plaintiff in the lawsuit to restore felons' voting rights, which feels like some sort of poetic justice.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


According to this site: Last spring, [2014] the Virginia House of Delegates finally passed a bill that eliminated Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature statute, which made oral sex (even between consenting married couples) a felony.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:02 PM on April 22, 2016


Or, as likeatoaster put it: everything sucks.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:05 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyone trying to tell you that these laws are not totally fucking racist is probably lying.

Let's be fair; they are occasionally stooges and Useful Idiots.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since I think it's gone unmentioned so far, it's worth noting that the mechanism the governor is using here is (a subset of) the executive's power to commute sentences. And so today's order hasn't gotten rid of felony disenfranchisement in the state, but rather restored voting rights to those currently released from felony convictions (which they plan to do monthly from here until the end of the governor's term).

So it's not a permanent solution (which would require a state constitution amendment), but I guess an interesting consequence of this method is that if/when a republican is elected governor in the future, I'm not sure s/he could actually take away the voting rights of those who have had them restored today? (Though obviously s/he would stop granting it to subsequently released felons).
posted by nobody at 1:34 PM on April 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


(I misspoke a bit: the order only covers people who have completed parole or probation, not everyone who's been released.)
posted by nobody at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2016


the order only covers people who have completed parole or probation, not everyone who's been released

Yeah, Maryland's legislature had to override the (Republican) Governor who vetoed the restoration because it didn't require completion of parole.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:52 PM on April 22, 2016


Jacqueline: I'm one of those people who --- while I've known about and abhorred the purposeful disenfranchisement of the poll tax laws and means tests and all the rest --- never connected the laws that forbid felons the vote to that disenfranchisement. And no, I'm not lying, to you or to myself.

And for what it's worth, the only felons I know personally are all white males: several cousins in Tennesee, plus a brother-in-law who chose to move out of Virginia simply to live in a state where he CAN vote.
posted by easily confused at 2:08 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well once you realize that people of color are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned at a much higher rate than whites committing the same crimes it flows from there that they must also be disproportionately affected by laws prohibiting felons from voting. (The clearest example of this bias is in the War on Some Drugs: whites and blacks consume drugs at roughly the same rates, but blacks are convicted of drug offenses at much higher rates. The criminal justice system is not apolitical or colorblind.)

Or just look to history where the people originally enacting these laws explicitly said that they were doing so to suppress black votes! Hell, you can sometimes still catch Republican politicians saying those sorts of things in the context of modern voter suppression efforts such as ID laws, registration cutoff dates, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's worth remembering that, after the Civil War and Reconstruction ended, Southern states enacted new laws criminalizing such conduct as "vagrancy" (i.e. not being able to prove that you are employed), quitting your job, and speaking loudly in the presence of white women. Not surprisingly, these laws were enforced nearly exclusively against African Americans, by local officials who provided no due process. People convicted under these laws were often sent to work in cotton fields, deep mines, and unsafe and unsanitary factories. They were frequently worked to death, and many were convicted of subsequent "crimes" they supposedly committed while imprisoned, such that they never were free again. This system basically prevailed until World War II and the Great Migration. Douglas Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name explains this in detail. You can hear Blackmon talk about it here. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns also includes substantial discussion of it.

These disenfranchisement laws were absolutely part of the same system designed to reinforce white supremacy by imposing nominally legal and extralegal violence against African Americans. It is shameful for anyone to support them, and great to see action being taken against them.
posted by burden at 2:31 PM on April 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


In researching the provisions, advisers to the governor turned up a 1906 report quoting Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator (and later, a member of Congress who was an author of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that regulated banks) as saying they would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

To which the senator added: "And next to this achievement in vital consequence will be the inability of unworthy men of our own race, under altered conditions, to cheat their way into prominence."
posted by IndigoJones at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2016


The state has been on a steady slide to the left ever since. I wonder how many other states are on a similar cusp.

I've been thinking about this alot recently. I think (absent anything other than anecdotal evidence) that a good number of the 'solid red' states are only that way via coercion and FUD, and as word gets out they'll flip blue much faster than the GOP realizes. RE:Bevin - in his first few months as Gov he's pleased his base ... and made lots of enemies. I have grand hopes for the downticket turn in November.
posted by eclectist at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


"But really, up until April 22, 2016, my entire view on these laws (which I have never supported) has been "oh, you're a fuckup, you don't get to participate in the system anymore".

hippybear, I didn't know either. It's something I've very barely even heard of (in an episode of Northern Exposure), and I assumed there was some kind of logic behind it like "now that you've majorly broken the law, we don't trust you to vote for judges and laws any more."
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think (absent anything other than anecdotal evidence) that a good number of the 'solid red' states are only that way via coercion and FUD, and as word gets out they'll flip blue much faster than the GOP realizes.

I do think that there are a scary number of sincerely-held (conservative) beliefs in solid red states, but I also think that red states with increasingly artsy and popular urban centers, which happen to be also very cheap - i.e., states in the southwest, states on the midwest/south lines, and states in the northern south - are going to become bluer.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:03 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've often insisted that if we're not going to allow felons to vote they shouldn't have to pay taxes, either. We fought a war about that, after all, didn't we?

(Yes, I'm aware that's disingenuous and not actually why we had a Revolution; I don't need to be well-actually'd about it. My point is a broader one about what "citizenship" means, and also about the utterly shameful way we treat felons in the US.)
posted by adrienneleigh at 9:31 PM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


. But apparently amendments are ranked by number and then sub-ranked by clause. That's why the 14th amendment's section two overrides the 15th and Ted Cruz thinks the 1st amendment outranks the 14th and 9th amendments.

My knowledge of American civics is patchy. This is meant to be a joke, right? It's not actually true?
posted by bardophile at 11:36 PM on April 22, 2016


>> But apparently amendments are ranked by number [...]
> My knowledge of American civics is patchy. This is meant to be a joke, right? It's not actually true?

It does seem odd that the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) outranks the 21st Amendment (Repeal of Prohibition), doesn't it?
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 12:07 AM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


bardophile: No, it's definitely not actually true. If anything, newer amendments override older ones. But Republicans often act like certain later amendments are ... second-class or even outright mistakes; and many of them really seem to think the 1st and the 2nd amendments are the only ones that count at all.
posted by adrienneleigh at 12:09 AM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thanks.
posted by bardophile at 12:12 AM on April 23, 2016


Whoops, in retrospect, that comment came out snarkier than I intended, sorry bardophile! I meant to snark at the interpretive method, not you.

(Although, as long as I have this comment box open, I found an interesting Slate Explainer which claims, in response to a question about whether the 2nd Amendment is 2nd-most-important because it's 2nd, that the order of the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments) reflects the order of the sections they were intended to modify in the main body of the Constitution. TIL, etc.)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 1:00 AM on April 23, 2016


This point has been made well already, but I guess it really hit me a few years ago that if people in power can keep criminals from voting, and then choose what constitutes a crime, then you can essentially choose your electorate. Keeping any citizen from voting for any reason is inherently anti-democratic. So, yes, put me on team Set-Up-Ballot-Boxes-In-Prisons. Anything else perverts the system, especially in the US, which has a bigger percentage of our population locked up than any other nation.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:35 AM on April 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


My line is if you've got enough ex-cons that they can change elections, maybe it is time to vote in someone that's easy on crime.

The other sign that it's got a racial angle is many of the people who are paranoid that the government is going to take away their guns rarely seem to worry about the government's ability to take away their vote.
posted by RobotHero at 5:55 AM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


In the rest of the democratic world, the default position is that, once you are citizen, you retain the voting rights of citizenship, even if you are in jail or have a criminal record. In Israel, a citizen cannot be denied the right to vote unless they are put on death row, which has not been occupied in Israel since the Adolf Eichmann trial. In other words, Yigal Amir, the assassin who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, actually got to vote on Rabin's successor. If Israel can tolerate that, I think the United States can tolerate restoring the voting rights of somebody who shoplifted a pizza or sold a dime bag of weed to an undercover cop.
posted by jonp72 at 9:10 AM on April 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Six States Where Felons Can’t Get Food Stamps
It's almost like they want felons to re-offend. I wonder why?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


In the rest of the democratic world, the default position is that, once you are citizen, you retain the voting rights of citizenship, even if you are in jail or have a criminal record.

It's a little more nuanced than that.
posted by Etrigan at 9:57 AM on April 23, 2016


Yay, Virginia! I canvassed in Richmond, Va (capitol of the confederacy!) for the 5 days leading up to and including election day, 2008. It was heartbreaking to talk so many people who were depressed about not being able to vote in what everyone knew was going to be an historic election. Just the ability to vote for a black man for president was felt by all to be groundbreaking. That's when the real reason for not allowing felons to vote occurred to me.

I also had a conversation with a man (white) while canvassing in Pennsylvania in 2012, who thought he couldn't vote because he was a convicted felon - but it is allowed in PA. The patchwork of laws is probably confusing to everyone.
posted by maggiemaggie at 2:16 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a couple of convicted felon relatives in a state where they are allowed to vote. I'm pretty sure from things they've said on Facebook that they are Trump supporters.
posted by maggiemaggie at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2016


In the rest of the democratic world, the default position is that, once you are citizen, you retain the voting rights of citizenship, even if you are in jail or have a criminal record.

It's a little more nuanced than that.


Based on that chart, only 4 out of 45 countries have the postrelease restrictions on voting that are considered commonsensical in the United States. I'd say that there is a big difference. Where I overstated things is that there are many countries that place restrictions on felons voting while in prison, but overall, the postrelease restrictions are rare. On the other hand, 21 countries have no restrictions at all on citizen voting rights, regardless of one's status vis-a-vis the criminal justice system. I just think it's necessary for Americans to challenge the cruel and stupid belief that ex-felons not in jail should have their vote taken away from them.
posted by jonp72 at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also had a conversation with a man (white) while canvassing in Pennsylvania in 2012, who thought he couldn't vote because he was a convicted felon - but it is allowed in PA. The patchwork of laws is probably confusing to everyone.

I had a similar conversation with a man in Oakland, California who said he couldn't vote because he was an ex-con, but the laws actually allow ex-felons to vote after completion of parole.
posted by jonp72 at 10:39 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the problem, though, is that if you vote when you're ineligible, you could get in really, really big trouble of a sort that most ex-cons are really anxious to avoid. If there's any ambiguity at all, a lot of people aren't going to chance it. And to be honest, if it were me, I would not trust the word of some random canvasser about whether my state allowed felons to vote. My hunch is that these laws end up disenfranchising a lot of people who are actually eligible to vote but who are scared that they're going to be prosecuted for misunderstanding some arcane regulation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


Absolutely, ArbitraryAndCapricious, and I wouldn't expect anyone to take my word for it, just plant the seed in their head. And I agree that the ambiguity and patchwork of laws is scaring people away.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:15 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


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