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Should Felons Get Their Voting Rights Restored?

Two senators split over whether only nonviolent felons should be able to cast a ballot.

by
Bill Straub

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May 6, 2014 - 12:04 am
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WASHINGTON – The Senate may get an opportunity to look at competing bills looking to restore voting rights to convicted felons after their terms of incarceration have expired.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is sponsoring the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights to lawbreakers after they have served their sentences in an effort to reduce recidivism — studies indicate that former prisoners who have voting rights restored are less likely to reoffend. The measure is in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), thought to be contemplating a run for president in 2016, is developing his own legislation – the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act – which would extend the franchise to fewer felony offenders.

The Paul bill, which has not been filed, differs from the Cardin measure by extending the vote only to nonviolent offenders who have been released from custody – basically targeting those imprisoned on drug charges.

Speaking on his proposal, Paul asserted “the cause is most just” and displayed his seriousness on the issue in February when he testified before a committee of the Kentucky General Assembly urging members to change state law and restore voting rights to some felons.

That effort failed, but Paul is intent on seeing that some federal offenders get their voting rights restored.

“We think that if you had a nonviolent felony — we’re for getting you voting rights,” Paul said, adding, “one mistake in life shouldn’t permanently block a citizen’s access to the ballot box.”

If the issue comes up for a vote on an already crowded Senate agenda, the Cardin bill is most likely to receive consideration since Democrats still control the upper chamber. But some maintain the Paul proposal might offer a better starting point, especially since it likely would stand a better chance of passing the Republican-controlled House.

Speaking at Georgetown University Law Center recently, Paul said he’s “just not quite there yet” on extending the franchise to all felons who have served their time, separating him from Cardin.

“There can be an argument made for — once you’ve served your time, you’ve served your time,” he said. “But I think as far as trying to get the coalition necessary to pass this, we’re looking at nonviolent felons.”

The effort places Cardin and Paul on the same side of the issue as Attorney General Eric Holder, who told an audience at the Georgetown University Law Center in February that “it is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.”

“These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” Holder said. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

The U.S. is the lone Western democracy that authorizes the denial of voting rights to individuals with felony convictions. An estimated 5,850,000 citizens — about one in 40 adults – are banned from voting in federal elections as a result of a felony conviction. Only about 25 percent of those disenfranchised currently are in prison. The remainder reside throughout the country having served out their sentences or been released on probation or parole.

Cardin said the various voting laws in individual states create a disparity and lead to an “unequal participation in federal elections based solely on where an individual lives.” Maine and Vermont permit those with felony convictions to vote – even those who remain incarcerated. In 35 states, convicted individuals are prohibited from voting while on parole. And 31 of those states also disenfranchise those on probation. In 11 states, a conviction can result in a lifetime prohibition.

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Top Rated Comments   
No matter what side of the issue you come down on, this is not something that should be addressed by Congress. Let the individual states make their own decisions. Each state has its own legislature that is just as qualified as Congress to decide this issue. What's more, states are actually Constitutionally empowered to make this decision; Congressional authorization on the issue is, at best, questionable.
Edited to correct grammatical error.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
gypciz:
A democrat's definition of evil is "anything that stands in the way of democrats getting elected (or re-elected)". Call that selective blindness.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
The only reason given experience in other democracies to re-enfranchise Felons is so that the left will gain an increase at the Ballot box. This is another good reason for allowing untrammelled immigration from Muslim Countries.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
1) The loss of voting rights is PART OF the punishment. If we're going to remove that part, we need longer prison sentences to make up for it.

2) Pointing out that the US is the lone democracy to do anything is more likely to imply that we're the only ones doing it right than that we're the only ones doing it wrong.

3) Comparing the issue to race-based voting laws is disgraceful and shows that whoever said it and whoever endorses it see race before all other things - that is, that they are, themselves, the true racists.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the states want to give criminals of nonviolent crimes, and this is their first offense, then I think it should be done - ON A STATE - BY - STATE BASIS ONLY. As far as federal crimes go, the individual still votes in a STATE-HELD election center.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I presumed he was referring to Federal crimes. But you are correct that the qualifications even for federal elections are based on state rules.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are hard at work on the State level to increase the number of votes they can get from criminals, their natural voting base.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Paul seems determined to increase the Democrat voting base; first illegal aliens - sorry, criminal trespassers - now criminals.

Is it any surprise that the main impetus for enfranchising criminals comes from Democrats? They know their voting base.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe felons should get their voting rights restored once they have served their sentence and completed the terms of their probation or parole.
But not until then.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Felons should be able to get their franchise back but only after staying out of trouble for a number of years and jumping through a number of bureaucratic hoops.
A second felony conviction should lead to permanent loss of the voting franchise.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
So a person who pokes someone in the snoot in a fit of rage should never regain the franchise, but someone who steals tens of thousands of dollars, which is equal to thousands of hours of the victims work life, gets off easier? Sorry, but non-violent crimes can still impact the victim in a big way.

Frankly, I'm against re-enfranchising felons in general, but if we must do it, in either case it should only come after a LONG crime-free period, a decade or more.

And the statistic that felons given back their vote have a lower recidivism rate is surely the most self-fulfilling prophecies I've ever heard; I'm just guessing here, but I don't imaging many crack whores or 3-time losers get their rights restored.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
No voting rights without restoration of the right to keep and bear arms!
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the ex-con is going to backslide, he isn't going to be worried about being denied arms any more than any other criminal worries about gun control.
If he is going straight, he might need them.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree that non-violent felons should be the starting (and possibly the ending) point for this initiative. I also like the Virginia idea of having the ex-convict petition (write a letter) for the return of his/her voting rights.

Not sure that the statistic really mean what the politicians say they mean about recidivism. Could it be that those who actually exert the effort to reregister and have their rights restored (what percent is that, BTW) are more civically inclined to begin with? What is actually being measured in these studies?

Violent offenders, however, are a different case and should be required to demonstrate non-violent behavior for some extended period after release. Those guilty of murder in any degree (and including "voluntary manslaughter"), however, have permanently denied their victim(s) voting rights and should receive the equivalent loss of their voting rights.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It should be earned back not handed back. This side discussion towards the end about too many black and brown in our prisons is bunk. Statistically those that do most of the crime fill our prisons and yes racism may be at work here because statistically whits are mostly the victims. Truth would be a good place to start all conversations.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
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