Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE RIGHT TO VOTE....Peter Kirsanow at NRO is suspicious of efforts to give felons the right to vote:

A cynic may be forgiven for suspecting that the motivation behind such support has as much to do with political expediency as principle.

I guess I'll take that seriously just as soon as conservatives support the right of DC voters to elect congressmen and senators. I'm sure their longtime opposition to this is based solely on fundamental principle and has nothing to do with the fact that anyone elected from DC would be reliably Democratic.

In any case, I agree with Jesse: Kirsanow forgot an important qualifier. He's talking about ex-felons. For some reason he just can't bring himself to refer to them that way.

I have to admit that many years ago, when I first learned that ex-cons couldn't vote, I was shocked. I had always figured that once you've paid your debt, you've paid your debt. The right to vote ranks with free speech as one of the absolutely most fundamental rights in a democracy, and I honestly can't think of anything short of certifiable mental incapacity to deny it to any adult.

On a more practical level, it bothers me because so many of these ex-felons were convicted on drug charges. Emotionally, it's easy to see why people might not think that child abusers and murderers are fit to vote, but someone who got caught with a few rocks of crack? That's just indefensible.

And whether intentionally or not, it's also seriously racist. Because of the disparity in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, a much larger percentage of blacks get convicted on drug charges than whites. The net result is that if you use crack you're much more likely to be denied the right to vote for the rest of your life, and that means that a startlingly large proportion of the black population is permanently denied the right to vote.

It's a bad deal. At the very least laws should be changed to restrict voting only for the most heinous crimes. At best, this fundamental right should be allowed to anyone who's served his time and re-entered civil society.

Kevin Drum 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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