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Felons and Voting

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The issue of felons voting came up in the Republican presidential debate last night. (Transcript here.)   As often happens, there are actually two issues.  What is the best answer to the question, and who should decide which answer is best?

Rick Santorum took offense at an ad run by a Romney-oriented super PAC that criticized his vote on felon voting.  By using a graphic of a prisoner, he says, the ad falsely implies he voted to let currently incarcerated felons vote, when his actual position is that voting rights should be restored upon completion of all of the sentence, including probation and parole time.  He also criticized Romney for not trying to change Massachusetts law while he was governor, which allows parolees to vote.

Romney's response to the latter point is one that he has been required to make, correctly, several times in the course of the campaign.  Politics is the art of the possible, and only so much was possible in Massachusetts.  Changing that law was not possible.  Democrats had 85% of the legislature, and they know very well that criminals are more likely to vote for them than for Republicans.  Romney also said that his position on the underlying issue was that violent felons should not have their vote restored even after completing their sentence.

Perry got in a comment that this issue should not be decided in Washington.  It is a state-law question.  He is correct.  The original Constitution left voting eligibility entirely to the states.  Amendments have forbidden discrimination on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" or sex.  The voting age was lowered to 18 by another amendment.  That's it.  Everything else is state law.  And no, "disparate impact" does not transform a disqualification based purely on an individual's choice to commit a crime into racial discrimination.  So if a state wants to let murderers vote while on parole or even while still in the joint, that is wrong but their choice.  If a state wants to restore voting rights selectively based on the nature the crime and the extent of demonstrated rehabilitation, that is their choice also (and the correct one, IMHO).

1 Comment

"Amendments...by another amendment. That's it. Everything else is state law."

Perfectly stated. As Geo. Washington said in his Farewell Address:

"But the Constitution, which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all."

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