Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack played Santa Claus this 4th of July, handing voting rights back to 50,000 ex-felons and pulling the Hawkeye State out of a small group of states that do not automatically reinstate voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences. Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia maintain blanket felon-disenfranchisement laws.
Stats on ex-convict non-voters, based on research from the Sentencing Project:
• 4.7 million Americans can't vote because of felony convictions
• 500,000 of those 4.7 million are war veterans
• 1.4 million of the 4.7 million are black men
Though crime rates have fallen, the prison population soared to 2.1 million by June 2004, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Justice Department. In 1970, that number was about 200,000.
In 2003, associate editor/criminal supergenius Matt Welch cast a provisional ballot for felon re-enfranchisement, arguing that Democrats have a built-in incentive to get behind this issue. Vilsack, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, is being criticized by some (though not all) Republicans in his state. "Are we going to let baby rapers and meth producers vote?" wonders Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield).
And what about the praying mantis killers, Clel, what about them?