Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow


New at Reason: Matt Welch votes against taxation without representation, even for ex-cons.

NEXT: Free Trade in Drugs

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ian — I’m not trying to convince the Democrats of anything; I’m pointing out that they *already are* convinced, an firmly on the record as courting the Felon Vote (follow the link to the NAACP convention). If there’s any convincing I’m trying to do, is that it’s possible that something can be the right thing to do even if Democrats support it and would benefit.

  2. In his list of victimless crimes, Mr. Welch overlooked the #1 felony in America: Tearing off mattress tags!!! 😉

    That’s right, I’m guilty but not charged (yet). Maybe Total Information Awareness will finally catch me and stop me before I can tear again.

  3. Voting, at least in national elections, is highly overrated, symbolism aside. Ask just about any economist. Living on the outskirts of Washington DC, with its “Taxation Without Representation” license tags always reminds me that taxation *with* representation ain’t all that great a deal, either.

    I’d probably be willing to entertain the “vote per tax dollar” idea mentioned above, although I’d much rather have a vote market — sell your vote, if you choose, to the highest offeror every election cycle. Why not?

    Matt’s basic point — that we are all felons (convicted or not) and thus in jeopardy of the state disenfranchising us, is well taken. Of course, there should be far fewer crimes and, frankly, I was serious in agreeing that felons (and the insane and children) should get the vote. I do disagree, however, that something should be done simply because it is “the right thing to do.” Consequences matter.

  4. Ian,

    The black academics I know often talk about this issue and I don’t think they see much of a stigma in someone having a felony on his or her record; as Mr. Welch points out, lots of felonies are silly, and these academics think that most blacks in prison for violent crimes were wrongly convicted or were violent because of our racist society. As far as pandering is concerned, didn’t Leiberman just say he’d put Kweisi Mfume on the Supreme Court? Now that is some serious pandering. So, no, I don’t think the Democrats would have much compunction about openly pursuing the felony vote.

    I think that fears (or hopes, depending on your perspective) that allowing felons to vote would give the Democrats an insuperable advantage are exaggerated. How many felons would actually vote? I’m guessing not that many. And if they did, this would likely spur people that lean Republican but don’t vote to get off their bottoms every November and get to the voting booth. Imagine the GOP get-out-the-vote talking points: “In 1987 Joe Rockhead killed a family of four. This Tuesday Joe will be voting for the mayor of your town and the governor of your state. If a convicted murder is voting, don’t you think you should be? Don’t let a killer decide who will govern you.”

  5. If I’m not mistaken, ripping the tags off of mattresses is only a felony if done by the dealers or manufacturers selling the product, not if performed by the end user (consumer).

  6. Well, I suppose I ougth to read all the links in these things. I didn’t know these people had already stooped to such a level of pandering.

    I was attempting flippancy that I don’t think worked terribly well. I know a number of candidates have talked about it, but I was imagining a scenario with Dean in a local jail trying to chat with all the people who would be released before the election — the true “Felon Vote”.

    I agree that a great deal of felonies are rediculous, and that their creation has had racist roots. But is the disenfranchisement issue then — to use law lingo I see on Law and Order a lot (I’m an int’l political economy guy, not law) — “fruit of the poisoned tree”? Putting aside for a moment the issue of wether or not the gov’t should be disenfranchising anyone, the loss of voting rights applies to anyone who committed a felony, regardless of race, creed, color, etc. Part of the whole “equal before the law” idea. Is it now necessarily wrong because one of its preconditions is faulty? The naming of crimes as felonies, or the sentences issued for those crimes, have obvious racial imbalances through history. But does that necessarily negate the argument for disenfranchisement?

    If there is a compelling state interest in not letting felons who’ve served their time vote (which I’m not convinced there is), can this be negated by the misuse of the application of the felony rules? I suppose it’s a bit like the death penalty. Is the argument for or against it tainted by the problematic application of the ruling? Honestly, I’m not too sure. I just don’t feel like it was a loop that got closed in the piece.

  7. As someone who sees “Taxation without Representation” tags quite a lot, I wonder if Matt or anyone else has considered the flip side of the coin: what if we simply lift federal income tax requirements for DC, felons, the insane, and children?

  8. Great idea. But what felony do you think I should confess to?

  9. The idea of exempting residents (and, I guess, businesses) in DC from federal taxes has been raised. Virginia and Maryland won’t let it happen, because of the flight of jobs to the District. They do love the home mortgage deduction and Federal Highway Administration, though.

  10. They should be able to vote, I think, but most of them wouldn’t, even if they could. They just aren’t the sort of people who are going to see voting as something that helps them, one way or the other.

  11. Of course, I would make the argument that being caught is evidence of being too dumb to be entrusted with the franchise.

    Only those felons who are smart enough to avoid being caught – that’s all the rest of us – ought to be allowed to vote.

    Yep, I’d support IQ testing at the polls… Talk about a way to wallop the Dems, especially the ones in Florida too dumb to read a ballot…

  12. DC, felons, the insane, and children
    kids don’t pay taxes

  13. Teenagers with jobs pay taxes. I did when I was a teenager.

  14. Checked out the CA state code. Thanks for the link, Matt. It does not say anything about DUI’s or public intoxication. Just thought you’d like to know.

  15. Ridgely:

    Your proposal seems to assume that progressive taxation and non-corporate welfare are the main forms of statism in the economy, and that the upper classes have some kind of rational interest in a free market.

    The problem is that the most cartelized sectors of the economy pass their taxes along to consumers, so they have little interest in reducing taxes–at least corporate taxes. And the corporatist economy owes its existence to other factors besides taxation–the regulatory state among them. So many of the taxpaying class would have a stong vested interest in statism, and most people who paid little or no tax would still be heavily “taxed” as consumers by monopoly prices on the goods they buy.

    Check out the work of Gabriel Kolko or G. William Domhoff. Most of the regulatory and welfare state was in fact adopted under the influence of corporate presidents and billionaire coupon-clippers, because it benefitted them.

    England was run by your franchise rules under the Whig Oligarchy, and that period–which coincided with the industrial revolution–was incredibly authoritarian for the overwhelming majority of the population.

  16. Three points:

    1) How about an incentive system? “Stay straight for five years after you complete your sentence; get your rights back.

    2) Why just voting? Why not ALL rights? The right to keep and bear arms. Equal access to student loans, government contracts, etc. That will flush out those who just want their votes, as opposed to those who are really concerned about making them citizens again. (And RKBA will give the Left folks a bad case of twitchies.)

    3) Remember the recent crackdown in NYC? If you want to keep your right to vote, don’t live under a government anal enough to have laws against license plate frames, etc.

  17. Well, judging from most election results in my lifetime, I doubt re-enfranchising felons could do any harm. Similarly, I’m not entirely sure why the insane and children shouldn’t be permitted to vote.

    On the other hand, my decidedly unlibertarian side would prefer that only tax paying, college educated owners of real property in fee simple who have passed an extensive current events test be permitted to vote. Call me old fashioned.

  18. Ridgely,

    Further along that idea, how would you like a voting system in which votes were allocated to people in direct proportion to tax dollars paid? Just bring you last 4 years tax forms to the polling station.

    That would kill the welfare state PDQ.

  19. The author of this piece cannot possibly be serious about wanting felon reinfranchisement. That would lead to a complete electoral control by the Democratic party, along with the higher taxes, socialized health insurance, terrorist-coddling foreign policy, and class warfare that will destroy this country.

  20. It might kill the welfare state, but that just meanst you’d get Hollywood celebs and sports stars with an overwhelming proportion of the votes. (OK, so the sports star vote is pretty much the same thing as votes for felons, but I think you see what i mean.)

    I just wonder most about Welch trying to convince Dems that they should push for this because of the most felons are black -> most blacks for Dem argument.

    Does he really think Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, Dean and the rest of the Brady Bunch are going to go on record as courting the “Felony Vote”? That would be pandering to a race even more than the Dems already do. “We want you to vote cuz, you know, you’re all black, and well, we know blacks all vote for us. Dems in ’04! Whoot! Whoot!”

  21. Matthew Cromer (12:42 PM) what was your first clue?

  22. I agree with D.A. Ridgely (first post.)

    Not only should we let schizophrenics, children, and felons vote, but we should also allow all the unregisterds to vote as well. Why should anyone be registered anyway?

    Hell, bring ’em ALL into the fray! If we can teach chimps to pull a lever, we can put them in a voting booth. I have a parrot that can do that. Yeah, get all the nations parrots lined up at the polls on Election Day. (Pet food is taxed, and these “PETA people” need representation, too.)

    And what about Canadians? Surely they can vote here, too, right? And Mexicans. Yes! “From the prairies, to the oceans, to the angry mouths, white with foam.” And let’s not exclude people from South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. (All taxed via tariffs.)

    Bring ’em all in! The more the better for American politicians — as representing (or representative of) schizophrenics. By all means, let’s not be exclusionary here. Throw it wide open! “From sea to shining sea.” (Baltic to Bering.)

    Oops! Forgot Australia. (San Diego roos are taxed.) C’mon Aussies! We need your help to gum up the works here, too. Come pull that lever on November 6th, mate!

    And goodbye “Land that I (used to) love.”

  23. Well, get rid of income taxes, and maybe allowing only the propertied to vote might be reasonable; but as income taxes are the most predominant means of raising revenues by the government these days, I wouldn’t support a “property owners only rule.”

  24. A better idea would be to get rid of all the gubmint-run social programs ? which are the proper purview of churches, charities, and private institutions anyway.

    Remove from government the burdens of anything that is not Constitutionally mandated ? such as education, housing, healthcare, social insecurity (I?m sure you can come up with your own long list) and you can have a lean treasury whose coffers can be fed by excise taxes alone.

    Such funds would be sufficient to pay for the three braches of government, including a standing military.

    And then let?s return to having a sane electorate.

    Do you have a copy of the Constitution? No?
    Here, help yourself. It?s FREE:

  25. Correction: “three branches.”

    Point is, income taxation has been a scourge upon this land ever since it was enacted — along with all the excuses for having it in the first place.

  26. Give everyone the right to vote, but make them EARN the privilege.

    OK, so is voting “a right” or “a privilege”?

    I’m confused.

  27. Helping to shape the destiny of one’s country, even by the seemingly insignificant contribution of one vote, is a privilege. The right to vote should be inherent at birth, to be exercised upon proof of the ability to understand the importance of that privilege. Clear?

  28. Sorry, that still may confuse. Voting is a right which must be earned.

  29. Nope. Still not right. How about this, Pete: Everyone should have the right to try and earn the privilege of voting. There. That’s it.

  30. Carson:

    As far as I can tell, individuals as consumers pay *all* corporate taxes anyway, since whatever taxes a profitable corporation makes becomes one of its cost factors.

    I don’t particularly have any “franchise” system and I doubt seriously whatever I said assumes what you posit since, for the most part, I don’t understand it.

    As for the “upper classes” (whoever they are), of course they will act in their own best interests, because everyone does, and that doesn’t necessarily mean (in fact it rarely means) acting in a manner consistent with some sort of libertarian or egalitarian notion of distributive justice.

  31. Ridgely is partly right. Give everyone the right to vote, but make them EARN the privilege. A litmus test of some sort. Heinlein suggested the ability to solve a quadratic equation would show enough intelligence, if not competence, to be allowed to cast one’s ballot.

  32. Apologies for the time delay. I had to actually do some of the work for which I’m paid. Free hammers for the asking, though. I wonder if you’d get it back across the border though.

  33. Seems it took you over an hour of thinking about it to get it “right,” Canadian, but I’m glad you finally did.

    “Everyone should have the right to try and earn the privilege of voting.”

    And everyone should have the right to try and earn a living … And everyone should have the right to try and pursue happines … (Etc.)

    I wish you would hand that accurately nailing hammer to certain people in this land. They keep missing the nail.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.