In Which a Conservative Agrees Felons Should Vote

Color me shocked. George Will, who is, to be fair, one of the more reasonable conservative thinkers, has written a column arguing that there is no good reason to prevent felons from voting. And he’s absolutely right. Why should the right to vote be singled out in this regard?

And Florida is one of 11 states that effectively disqualify felons permanently.

Meade is one of 1.6 million disenfranchised Florida felons — more than the total number of people who voted in 22 separate states in 2016. He is one of the more than 20 percent of African American Floridians disenfranchised. The state has a low threshold for felonious acts: Someone who gets into a bar fight, or steals property worth $300 — approximately two pairs of Air Jordans — or even drives without a license for a third time can be disenfranchised for life. There is a cumbersome, protracted process whereby an individual, after waiting five to seven years (it depends on the felony) can begin a trek that can consume 10 years and culminates with politicians and their appointees deciding who can recover their vote…

What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons — who really do not require reminding — of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community.

Meade, like one-third of the 4.7 million current citizens nationwide who have reentered society from prison but cannot vote, is an African American. More than 1 in 13 African Americans nationally are similarly disenfranchised, as are 1 in 5 of Florida’s African American adults. Because African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic, ending the disenfranchisement of felons could become yet another debate swamped by partisanship, particularly in Florida, the largest swing state, where close elections are common: Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s margins of victory in 2010 and 2014 were 1.2 and 1.1 percent, respectively. And remember the 537 Florida votes that made George W. Bush president.

Wow. He sounds like a liberal. And he’s right, more ex-felons would vote Democratic than would vote Republican, but that is the result of the higher percentage of minorities in the prison population, which is the primary result of conscious decisions to focus law enforcement resources on minority communities. It all ties in to the failed war on drugs and our mass incarceration problem. If allowing felons to vote can help change that, we’ll all be better off.

And in the end, this should not be about which party benefits from it, it should be about what is right.

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