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Felons and the Right to Vote

 
 
au1929
 
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2004 07:15 am
TODAY'S EDITORIALS

Felons and the Right to Vote


Published: July 11, 2004




About 4.7 million Americans, more than 2 percent of the adult population, are barred from voting because of a felony conviction. Denying the vote to ex-offenders is antidemocratic, and undermines the nation's commitment to rehabilitating people who have paid their debt to society. Felon disenfranchisement laws also have a sizable racial impact: 13 percent of black men have had their votes taken away, seven times the national average. But even if it were acceptable as policy, denying felons the vote has been a disaster because of the chaotic and partisan way it has been carried out.

Thirty-five states prohibit at least some people from voting after they have been released from prison. The rules about which felonies are covered and when the right to vote is restored vary widely from state to state, and often defy logic. In four states, including New York, felons on parole cannot vote, but felons on probation can. In some states, felons must formally apply for restoration of their voting rights, which state officials can grant or deny on the most arbitrary of grounds.

Florida may have changed the outcome of the 2000 presidential election when Secretary of State Katherine Harris oversaw a purge of suspected felons that removed an untold number of eligible voters from the rolls. This year, state officials are conducting a new purge that may be just as flawed. They have developed a list of 47,000 voters who may be felons, and have asked local officials to consider purging them. But The Miami Herald found that more than 2,100 of them may have been listed in error, because their voting rights were restored by the state's clemency process. Last week, the state acknowledged that 1,600 of those on the list should be allowed to vote.

Election officials are also far too secretive about felon voting issues, which should be a matter of public record. When Ms. Harris used inaccurate standards for purging voters, the public did not find out until it was too late. This year, the state tried to keep the 47,000 names on its list of possible felons secret, but fortunately a state court ruled this month that they should be open to scrutiny.

There is a stunning lack of information and transparency surrounding felon disenfranchisement across the country. The rules are often highly technical, and little effort is made to explain them to election officials or to the people affected. In New York, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that local elections offices often did not understand the law, and some demanded that felons produce documents that do not exist.

Too often, felon voting is seen as a partisan issue. In state legislatures, it is usually Democrats who try to restore voting rights, and Republicans who resist. Recently, Republicans and election officials in Missouri and South Dakota have raised questions about voter registration groups' employment of ex-felons, although they have every right to be involved in political activity. In Florida, the decision about whether a felon's right to vote will be restored lies with a panel made up of the governor and members of his cabinet. Some voting rights activists believe that Gov. Jeb Bush has moved slowly, and reinstated voting rights for few of the state's ex-felons, to help President Bush's re-election prospects.

The treatment of former felons in the electoral system cries out for reform. The cleanest and fairest approach would be simply to remove the prohibitions on felon voting. In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush announced a new national commitment to helping prisoners re-enter society. Denying them the right to vote belies this commitment.

Restoring the vote to felons is difficult, because it must be done state by state, and because ex-convicts do not have much of a political lobby. There have been legislative successes in recent years in some places, including Alabama and Nevada. But other states have been moving in the opposite direction. The best hope of reform may lie in the courts. The Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have ruled recently that disenfranchising felons may violate equal protection or the Voting Rights Act.

Until the whole idea of permanently depriving felons of their right to vote is wiped away, the current rules should be applied more fairly. The quality of voting roll purges must be improved. Florida should discontinue its current felon purge until it can prove that the list it is using is accurate.

Mechanisms for restoring voting rights to felons must be improved. Even in states where felons have the right to vote, they are rarely notified of this when they exit prison. Released prisoners should be given that information during the discharge process, and helped with the paperwork.

The process for felons to regain their voting rights should be streamlined. In Nevada, early reports are that the restoration of felon voting rights has had minimal effect, because the paperwork requirements are too burdensome. Ex-felons who apply to vote should have the same presumption of eligibility as other voters.

Voting rights should not be a political football. There should be bipartisan support for efforts to help ex-felons get their voting rights back, by legislators and by state and local election officials. American democracy is diminished when officeholders and political parties, for their own political gain, try to keep people from voting.


Do laws need be amended? Should the right to vote be restored to ex-felons?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 3,516 • Replies: 21
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2004 07:29 am
I asked this question six weeks ago, referring to THIS REPORT .

For more and additional reading, I refer to the (as PDF!) article in Bill's response above mentioned thread:
BillW wrote:
Here is a really, really long article that I boil down to saying - it is one of the last of the Jim Crow laws:

http://www.righttovote.org/upload/resources/156_UFile_mauer-crj.pdf
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2004 08:34 am
Supposedly, when one has paid one's debt to society, one should be able to return to the life of a normal citizen. But it don't happen. Unless it is determined that one is a continuing threat, I have always believed that full rights should always be restored.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Jul, 2004 08:39 am
Toatlly agreed, Edgar!
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shewolfnm
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2004 04:15 pm
I know someone who was convicted of 2 felonies for writting fake perscriptions. Never obtained the drugs, just got caught for the fake script.
They can not vote for life now.
Pretty silly I think. I dont think writting a fake rx is considered any kind of threat that warrants a life time penalty.
BUT where would you draw the line ? Who could/ could not vote after thier conviction? How would you govern the continueing threat of one person or another?
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2004 04:43 pm
edgarblythe wrote:
Supposedly, when one has paid one's debt to society, one should be able to return to the life of a normal citizen.


When is one's debt to society considered "paid"? In our legal system (and those in most of the rest of the world) it's "paid in full" for most felons when they die.

Maybe that explains all the dead people voting for Democrats. Wink
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Jul, 2004 10:43 pm
fishin' wrote:
When is one's debt to society considered "paid"? In our legal system (and those in most of the rest of the world) it's "paid in full" for most felons when they die.


Well, and that's the big difference to other societies, and why I was confused over this.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 07:15 am
I don't think there is that big of a difference Walter. Many people think that if a person is incarcerated and serves their time for any crime they've committed the debt is paid when they walk out of prison.

That hasn't been the case here or in most other countries for years. Most people released from prison are put on some sort of supervised release that has conditions limiting their actions. Even after that period of suprvised release they carry a criminal record for the rest of their lives. As they move from one phase to the next the number of rights returned to them increases but the debt is seldom paid in full.

People can apply to have their record expunged which can speed up the process but most don't ever even bother.
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Miller
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 07:17 am
shewolfnm wrote:
I know someone who was convicted of 2 felonies for writting fake perscriptions. Never obtained the drugs, just got caught for the fake script.
They can not vote for life now.
Pretty silly I think. I dont think writting a fake rx is considered any kind of threat that warrants a life time penalty.
BUT where would you draw the line ? Who could/ could not vote after thier conviction? How would you govern the continueing threat of one person or another?


Writing fake prescriptions is in the same league as practicing medicine without a license. Cool
0 Replies
 
Miller
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 07:19 am
Debts paid to society?

Does anyone think a child molestor ever fully pays his/her debt to society, by enduring some jail time?
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 07:54 am
Regardless of what Fishin' thinks about how former prison inmates are or ought to be viewed, and his snide and unnecessary remark about Democratic voters--Delaware, Maryland, Texas, Connecticutt, New Mexico and Alabama have laws to refranchise some or all former felons. In Florida, accroding to the Tampa Tribune, felons are eligible to apply for refranchisement, and about 15% do so--the article did not comment on the rate of success. I find it more than a little disingenuous for Fishin' to contend that the trend toward open ended sentencing which gained currency in this country about a century ago means that felons are to be considered to have "paid their debt" only at the graveside.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 07:58 am
Well, fishin', there are indeed some differences.

German law differs punishment in imperisonment and measures involving deprivation of liberty:
"Punitur quia peccatum est, ne peccetur".

But before I start trying not only to recapitulate but also to translate all that, you can read those paragraphs in our criminal code (all § 38 et sqq. up to § 70).

:wink: : Criminal Code, Germany
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 08:19 am
This subject came up at another site i visit, and i did some research then. I was able to determine that 35 of 50 states here have statutes disfranchising felons; six states, which i have listed above, partially or fully refranchise felons; Florida allows former felons to apply for refranchisement--leaving three states and the territories unaccounted for. I had done no further research at that time.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 08:52 am
Setanta wrote:
I find it more than a little disingenuous for Fishin' to contend that the trend toward open ended sentencing which gained currency in this country about a century ago means that felons are to be considered to have "paid their debt" only at the graveside.


Disingenuous? Really? How exactly would you characterize it? Do you deny that a convicts records follow then around throughout the remainder of their lives? The fact that someone has a felony conviction record automaticlly makes them ineligible for hundreds of jobs. There is an entire laundry list of licenses that can not be issued to anyone with a felony record (Grain Inspector, Commercial Transportation License, Import/export licenses, etc and any job requiring any type of security cleareance and many jobs in a "position of trust").

When is a child molestor who must register with the local police department every year for the remainder of their life and have their name displayed on public WWW sites condsidered "paid in full"? What about the laws that prohibit felons from holding positions in Labor unions or deny them participation in Federal Medical programs? What about drug offenders that are denied welfare, Social Security, health, disability and public housing because of their convictions?

Since most of these benefits are never restored, exactly when (prior to their death) is the felon considered "paid in full" by society?
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 08:58 am
fishin' wrote:
When is one's debt to society considered "paid"? In our legal system (and those in most of the rest of the world) it's "paid in full" for most felons when they die.

That's simply not true. Your example of "open-ended sentencing" is a either a myth or a joke -- I can't quite figure out which. In any event, fishin', you should know better.

The only people in the US who are given "open-ended sentences" are those people who are found innocent by reason of insanity: their commitment to mental institutions is conditioned on their achieving a "cure," which, of course, might never happen. As for all the other convicted criminals, it would be a violation of their constitutional rights to give them to an open-ended sentence.

fishin' wrote:
Maybe that explains all the dead people voting for Democrats. Wink

In Chicago, we prefer to describe this class of voters as the "life challenged."
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 09:05 am
As i had earlier mentioned, Fishin', your position on "debt paid" is a relict of the open-ended sentencing trend of a century or more ago. Joe has responded as well as i could have done, but i will add the comment that the notion of an unspecificed sentence is that the convict is to be "rehabilitated," so that even that era in penal code envisioned a term to the payment of the putative debt. Modern sentencing legislation and guidelines have ended the era of open-ended sentencing, and as already noted, at least six states have modified their codes to allow the refranchisement of felons either in certain circumstances, or unconditionally; while a seventh allows felons to apply for refranchisement.

You haven't defined the nature of this debt, let alone demonstrated under what terms it can be said to have been paid.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 09:11 am
joefromchicago wrote:
That's simply not true. Your example of "open-ended sentencing" is a either a myth or a joke -- I can't quite figure out which. In any event, fishin', you should know better.


Since I didn't give an example of open-ended sentencing in the post you quoted I fail to see how my example isn't true. In fact, I wasn't referring to open-ended sentencing at all.

My posts were in reference to the concept of a criminal's debt to society being paid and the fact is that we have hundreds of laws at the state and federal levels that limit felons in many ways well after they've been released from prison and, in many ways, until they die.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 09:14 am
And those laws can be changed at the discretion of state legislatures--there is no concrete definition of what constitutes the debt, and what constitutes fulfillment.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 09:15 am
Setanta wrote:
You haven't defined the nature of this debt, let alone demonstrated under what terms it can be said to have been paid.


You're right, I haven't. Now go back and read my very first sentence in this thread. That is exactly what I was asking edgar to do since he was the 1st person to bring up the "paid their debt" concept here.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jul, 2004 09:31 am
Having re-read your reply to EB, i'll note that you have contended since then that said "debt" is never paid--so i am curious to know how you define the debt. Right off hand, i'd speculate that there at least fifty working legal definitions to be considered . . .
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