Campaigns/Elections

Let (Some) Criminals Vote

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At The Atlantic, Patrick Appel writes a quick appeal to America to "let criminals vote." He makes a solid argument. Disenfranchisement raises concerns about racism and the abuse of civil rights for partisan political gain. It's a foolish way to go about punishment if we're at all interested in rehabilitation:

[I]t's hard to see how implementing a form of civic death helps former inmates reintegrate into society. Even if one grants that certain morally challenged offenders—murderers, say—do not belong in the voting booth, surely we could have judges determine who is fit to vote on a case-by-case basis, rather than excluding all criminals in the blanket laws of state constitutions.

Unfortunately, Appel overstates his case. What standard would those judges use to determine which criminals deserve to be enfranchised? Appel doesn't answer that question, probably because answering it would drain rhetorical force from his writing. ("Let Criminals Vote" becomes "Don't Let Criminal X Vote. Do Let Criminal Y Vote.") Describing such a standard would mean writing at length about the classes of wrongdoers who surely don't deserve the right to vote, and he wants to write about the classes who do. Even when he's acknowledging that some disenfranchisement is just, he only does so in a hypothetical: "If one grants…"

The real problem with the criminal justice system is not that it disenfranchises criminals, but that it disenfranchises too many criminals. As long as Appel believes that "citizens should be denied basic rights only when a clear threat is posed to the public good," the burden of proof should rest on the government to prove that a criminal or class of criminals doesn't deserve suffrage. As it stands, the system defaults on stripping so many criminals of the franchise that it risks punishing minor crimes disproportionately.

There are probably good arguments for disenfranchising lots of criminals. Appel doesn't dwell on that fact (though I think he knows it). Giving up the conceit that we should enfranchise all criminals is a good first step toward developing fair standards that could enfranchise most of them.

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  1. I’m for disenfranchising anyone who’s run for any elective office within the last five years, unless they forego any salary for the position. I would also disenfranchise anyone who’s on the public payroll.

    -jcr

  2. Should ex-cons, having paid for their crimes, also have the right to keep and bear arms?

  3. I say let ’em all vote. The really really bad criminals who are out of their minds (chi mos and such) make such a small segment of the population that its not like their vote would upset any critical balance anyways.
    Disenfranchisement is a waste of time and abuse of civil rights. Nothing else,

  4. John, yes. Do you see any exception in the second amendment for convicts?

  5. Once one becomes a criminal he has a vested interest in anti-crime laws. Thus, I do not believe criminals should be able to vote.

  6. I guess the question that comes to my mind is whether or not the various methods of disenfranchisement of ex-cons contribute to them committing more crimes.

  7. Well, if enough people were/are prosecuted for something arbitrary, like marijuana possession and became disenfranchised from voting, the pendulum on drug control could/(did?) swing more and more invasive, hard anti-drug laws.
    I doubt that even the majority or murders would be in favor of legalized civil killing, and even if they were, they murderers still make up a minority of the population.

  8. Every citizen of age should be able to vote. End of story, as far as I’m concerned.

    You have no freedom of speech unless you are free to say unpopular, spiteful things.

    By the same logic, there is no suffrage unless the ‘wrong’ people can also vote.

  9. If you have paid your debt then you owe no more. If you continue to get into debt you lose the ability to redeem yourself.

    Criminal is not by default an incurable or terminal illness.

  10. Once one becomes a banker he has a vested interest in anti-banking laws. Thus, I do not believe bankers should be able to vote.

  11. Politicians have a vested interest against anti-corruption laws. Prosecutors have a vested interest against prosecutorial misconduct laws. Zombie Hitler has a vested interest against anti-zombie AND anti-Nazi (and anti-vegetarian and anti-artist and anti-dog lover) laws! Therefore, none of the above should be allowed to vote.

  12. Giving up the conceit that we should enfranchise all criminals is a good first step toward developing fair standards that could enfranchise most of them.

    I disagree whole-heartedly. Unless you are referring to the currently incarcerated, voting rights should be restored to a citizen once his “due has been paid”.

    Regarding John and Libertymike’s banter above, I have my doubts that truly violent criminals should have their second amendment rights restored, but as anyone at all familiar with the criminal justice system is aware those are very much a minority of the convicted. The overwhelming majority of those imprisoned should have 100% of their rights restored upon release back to society. If we trust them to walk among us, should we not also trust them to vote and carry a gun?

  13. “Let Criminals Vote” becomes “Don’t Let Criminal X Vote. Do Let Criminal Y Vote.”

    Voting rights for some. Miniature American flags for others.

  14. Why are they barred from voting again? Are we actually worried about convicted felons becoming a majority? If they did, wouldn’t that be an indication of a much clearer and more present problem?

    I don’t want to resort to an insinuation of crypto-racism, but that’s really all that’s left.

  15. That legislators won’t allow ex-cons to vote is proof that there is no honor among thieves.

  16. Here in Oklahoma, if you have not had another conviction, after a certain number of years, 10 IIRC, you can apply for a pardon from the Governor. I believe that all you have to do to be eligible is not be convicted of another crime. I can’t remember if that includes misdemeanors but traffic tickets don’t count. Once you receive your pardon you regain your rights to vote and bear arms.

  17. Ooooooooak – lahoma,
    Were the wisdom come sweepin’ down the plain.

  18. The real problem with the criminal justice system is not that it disenfranchises criminals, but that it disenfranchises too many criminals.

    IOW, the real problem with the criminal justice system is that too many things are federal crimes, and too many things are felonies.

    Why are they barred from voting again? Are we actually worried about convicted felons becoming a majority? If they did, wouldn’t that be an indication of a much clearer and more present problem?

    I believe that articles about Marion Barry’s re-election to the DC Council referred to his critical strong support among the ex-offender community.

  19. After a person hhas served his or her sentence, all rights afforded citizens should be restored. That includes the right to bear arms.

    Yep, you read that correctly. A guy does 25 years for aggravated manslaughter and finishes his parole, he should be able to carry a .45 cal.

  20. Society prepares the crime, the criminal just commits it. Might as well have ’em help prepare the society. Brings a sense of rhetorical closure.

  21. “I disagree whole-heartedly. Unless you are referring to the currently incarcerated, voting rights should be restored to a citizen once his “due has been paid””

    I agree. They pay into the government, they are affected by the government. Consent of the governed and no taxation without representation. American values…

    “That includes the right to bear arms.”

    Agree here too. Unless the person is under direct sentence, such as parole or probation, then no more restrictions on their liberty than the rest of us should be applied. The justification for such restrictions, that they are part of punishment, does not apply. I’m OK with not letting anyone still under the correctional system not voting or toting though…

    These laws are truly dumb. First, all felons are often equally barred, that hardly fits with any theory of just desserts. Second, they seem to inhibit re-integration of ex-offenders, something we all have an interest in. Third, as I’ve said, it’s immoral to tax and rule folks without their consent.

  22. Too many people exercise the franchise as it is. I say raise the age of majority to 30, for starters. And everyone should have the power to arbitrarily disenfranchise one person during their lifetime.

  23. Elemenope, you mean that Salem prepares the scarlett letter and Hester commits adultery?

  24. Elemenope,

    That’s bullshit. You’re a white suburban punk just like me.

  25. Kwix-

    Why shouldn’t a convict, even if she has been convicted of a violent offense, be deprived of the natural, fundamental right to defend herself?

  26. When you think about it, any deprivation, of any right, after a convict has served her time and has been released, amounts to a due process disaster.

    The ultimate issue in a criminal trial is guilt or innocence. Often, there are several legal issues that are addressed, considered and adjudicated apart from the accused’s guilt or innocence. Such issues might include the legality of a stop and frisk, what reasonable, articulable information did the police officer have to suspect that there was contraband in the vehicle, whether the wife received actual notice of the restraining order issued against her, whether the private parking lot of a members only country club at which the police found the defendant asleep at the wheel of his car was a public way, etc.

    However, what is not tried are issues such as whether the accused is going to be able to vote after she has served her time or whether she is going to be able to defend herself with firearms. No notice. No opportunity to be heard. No due process.

  27. Pro Lib-

    Rhode Island is different. May 4, 1776, in my book, is two months better than July 4, 1776 and being last to ratify speaks for itself.

    So, Elemenope and me aren’t just any white suburban punks.

  28. People who have done enough harm to their fellow citizens that they need to be incarcerated should be disenfranchised.

    If what they did is harmless enough that they deserve the right to vote, then they shouldn’t fucking be in jail. Such a “crime” (* cough, cough, non-violent drug use *) shouldn’t be a crime that results in incarceration.

  29. “People who have done enough harm to their fellow citizens that they need to be incarcerated should be disenfranchised.”

    Beyond their sentences (which I would probably agree with you should be long as shit if they’ve done something serious)?

    Why? On what grounds? Would you exempt them from taxes? If not, how could you tax them and yet deprive them of a say in how that money is spent?

  30. LM
    Rhode Island is pretty cool. Roger Williams is an American that more people should know about.

  31. MNG, obviously, I am biased, but there is an awful lot of history packed into little rhody’s 39 cities and towns.

  32. MNG — I’m pretty sure incarcerated people earning a buck or two an hour are generally below the threshold at which most taxes kick in.

    In any event, I’ve long advocated that taxes should be levied in the form of user fees for those using government services, with the right to opt out of those services.

    And, you may have noticed a disconnect between you voting and you having a discernable effect on how politicians actually spend the money they are confiscating without your consent, especially if, like me, you essentially never vote for anyone who gets elected.

    The point here is that someone with such a blatant disregard for their fellow citizens and the laws protecting us from each other that they need to be locked up, shouldn’t be allowed to vote for lawmakers who would write the laws they won’t obey.

  33. Fuck you, PL. Just for that you’re not in the gang anymore.

  34. “After a person hhas served his or her sentence, all rights afforded citizens should be restored. That includes the right to bear arms.”

    What if his sentence is losing most freedoms for 25, and losing the right to bear arms for life? Due process allows the removal of freedoms (even life, though not everyone agrees on that point), but it doesn’t mean that all such sanctions have to expire simultaneously.

  35. When I think of the low-life sorts I’ve known second and third-hand over the years, I don’t think any of them have voted ever. The guy that steals shit to sell for beer money is going to bother voting. Well, he might vote for a thief. So, maybe if there was one “gimme sum” party that advocated stealing from others, it might make sense to restrict voting by the dishonorable. Fortunately for us, there is no such party. Nyah!

  36. Let’s go get sushi and not pay.

  37. prole
    Well of course I’m not advocating inmates vote, I’m talking about people finished their sentences, working full time and paying the same taxes we all do. I can’t imagine why they should be allowed to be released into the world, asked (demanded) to follow the laws the government makes and to pay taxes to it, but not to have any say in it. As Locke said, when you rule someone without their consent they are your slave. Certainly you don’t think their mistake results in lifetime slavery, do you?

    “The point here is that someone with such a blatant disregard for their fellow citizens and the laws protecting us from each other that they need to be locked up, shouldn’t be allowed to vote for lawmakers who would write the laws they won’t obey.”

    They should be locked up or punished however for the exact law they are proven not to have obeyed, but once they are out I can’t understand why they shouldn’t. If they were so terrible they should not have been let out; voting would be the least thing I’d be worried about them doing. If they are OK enough to let out and sit by me on the bus then they are surely OK enough to vote.

  38. “What if his sentence is losing most freedoms for 25, and losing the right to bear arms for life?”

    Well, but it’s never like that as I understand it. The loss of things like gun rights are not part of the “sentence” they are collateral consequences.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collateral_consequences_of_criminal_charges

  39. If the imprisoned voted, then in some small towns, where the prisons are, they would run the local governments from the jail cells.

    Or, is there some fancy reason they could only vote in Federal elections?

    “I’m going to take your right to move about freely, your right to bear arms, your right to assembly, your right to everything, except your right to vote.” Does that make any sense?

    The results are in from Sing Sing…

  40. dj,
    In states that allow the incarcerated to vote; they are registered to vote for the local jurisdictions from where they are actually from (if allowed).

  41. Pro Lib –

    For me it comes down to –
    Do you believe that prisons are for rehabilitation of the convict as well as punishment and societal protection? Just as an accused is afforded the presupmtion of innocence,* I believe a released covict should be afforded the presumption that he is rehabilitated.

    You are aware that Martha Stewart was convicted of felonies, right?

    Anyway, the states decide what the qualifications for voting are and most states allow convicts that have done their time to exercise the franchise.**

    * It rankles me when somebody says a person is innocent until prove guilty which is obviously false.

    ** I was unaware of this (felons allowed to vote) until some wise reasonoid pointed it out to me.

  42. People who act in antisocial and destructive manners should definitely not vote.

    Do we really want more people who are out of control, irresponsible and violent to be helping us make our choices?

  43. Do we really want more people who are out of control, irresponsible and violent to be helping us make our choices?

    You may have noticed that we dsometimes elect “people who are out of control, irresponsible and violent”.

    Snark aside, do you think all convicted felons fall into this category? Most? Some? Which ones?

  44. “Just as an accused is afforded the presupmtion of innocence,* I believe a released covict should be afforded the presumption that he is rehabilitated.”

    Jesus J sub D, that is well put! You do this all the time, putting what I want to say so much more clearly, I really need to look at how to say this stuff with more brevity…

  45. Personally, I think we need to disenfranchise more people. Anyone who receives money from the government doesn’t get to vote. This would include, Pell Grant recipients, government employees, Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security/Food Stamp recipients.

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