Archive for Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Opinion: Why keep felons from voting?

April 10, 2018

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Jacksonville, Fla. — The bumpy path of Desmond Meade’s life meandered to its current interesting point. He is a graduate of Florida International University law school but cannot vote in his home state because his path went through prison: He committed nonviolent felonies concerning drugs and other matters during the 10 years when he was essentially homeless. And Florida is one of eleven states that effectively disqualify felons permanently.

Meade is one of 1.6 million disenfranchised Florida felons — more people than voted in 22 states in 2016. He is one of the 20 percent of African-American Floridians disenfranchised. The state has a low threshold for felonious acts: Someone who gets into a bar fight, or steals property worth $300 — approximately two pairs of Air Jordans — or even drives without a license for a third time can be disenfranchised for life. There is a cumbersome, protracted process whereby an individual, after waiting five to seven years (it depends on the felony) can begin a trek that can consume 10 years and culminates with politicians and their appointees deciding who can vote.

Meade heads the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which gathered more than a million signatures to get the state Supreme Court to approve, and local supervisors of elections to verify, the ballot initiative that voters will decide on Nov. 6. Meade’s basic argument on behalf of what he calls “returning citizens” like him is: “I challenge people to say that they never want to be forgiven for anything they’ve done.” Persons convicted of murder or felony sexual offense would not be eligible for enfranchisement.

Intelligent and informed people of good will can strenuously disagree about the wisdom of policies that have produced mass incarceration. What is, however, indisputable is that this phenomenon creates an enormous problem of facilitating the re-entry into society of released prisoners who were not improved by the experience of incarceration and who face discouraging impediments to employment and other facets of social normality. In 14 states and the District of Columbia, released felons automatically recover their civil rights.

Recidivism among Florida’s released felons has been approximately 30 percent for the five years 2011-2015. Of the 1,952 persons whose civil rights were restored, five committed new offenses, a recidivism rate of 0.4 percent. This sample is skewed by self-selection — over-representation of those who had the financial resources and tenacity to navigate the complex restoration process that each year serves a few hundred of the 1.6 million. Still, the recidivism numbers are suggestive.

What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons, who really do not require reminding, of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully re-entering the community.

Meade, like one-third of the 4.7 million current citizens nationwide who have re-entered society from prison but cannot vote, is an African-American. More than one in 13 African-Americans nationally are similarly disenfranchised, as are one in five of Florida’s African-American adults. Because African-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic, ending the disenfranchisement of felons could become yet another debate swamped by partisanship, particularly in Florida, the largest swing state, where close elections are common: Republican Governor Rick Scott’s margins of victory in 2010 and 2014 were 1.2 and 1.1 percent, respectively. And remember the 537 Florida votes that made George W. Bush president.

Last week, Scott’s administration challenged a federal judge’s order that the state adopt a rights-restoration procedure that is less arbitrary and dilatory. A Quinnipiac poll shows that 67 percent of Floridians favor and only 27 percent oppose enfranchisement of felons. These numbers might provoke Republicans, who control both houses of the legislature, to try to siphon away support for the restoration referendum by passing a law that somewhat mitigates the severity of the current policy. Such a law would be presented for the signature of the governor, who is trying to unseat three-term Democratic senator Bill Nelson.

Again, who is comfortable with elected politicians winnowing the electorate? When the voting results from around the nation are reported on the evening of Nov. 6, some actual winners might include 1.6 million Floridians who were not allowed to cast ballots.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Steve Hicks 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I'm surprised George comes out in favor of restoring the vote to felons, and so many of them black.

Has he forgotten the core-belief of his faction, that "those people" vote overwhelmingly for what George perceives as "the enemy" ?

Maybe Kris Kobach should look into the possibilities of disenfranchisement for a criminal record. Thousands of "enemy" voters probably have a traffic-ticket somewhere in their background. That should be a surer and quicker way to "clean" the voter-lists than convicting "illegals" of voting, which hasn't worked out for him...except as a rhetorical deception with his "base."

Gary Stussie 1 month, 2 weeks ago

"4.7 million current citizens nationwide who have re-entered society from prison but cannot vote"

4.7 M convicted felons disenfranchised ... 5.7 M illegal immigrants registered to vote in 2008 election ... let's call it a wash!

Steve Hicks 1 month, 2 weeks ago

"5.7 M illegal immigrants registered to vote in 2008 election"

The liars' statistics (Trump, Kobach) are only believed by other liars, Gary.

Where's that put you ?

Gary Stussie 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Why is it that California, New York and Virginia won't cooperate with the Federal Government

Gary Stussie 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Steve ... Why is it that California, New York and Virginia won't cooperate with the Federal Government ... do they think it appropriate for any non-citizen to vote?

Just Facts, an independent New Jersey research organization, released the results of its study in June 2017. Using extensive data from a Harvard/YouGov study of tens of thousands of voters, Just Facts “estimated that as many as 7.9 million noncitizens were illegally registered to vote in 2008, and 594,000 to 5.7 million voted [in the 2008 U.S. presidential election].”

Like you Steve, PolitiFact declared the results of his organization’s study “false,” and just like you they didn't back up their "feelings" with facts. Just Facts’ president James D. Agresti dissected PolitiFact’s argument. Both are available on the web.

Son Mac 1 month, 2 weeks ago

  1. It's a privacy issue and what Kobach intended to do with the voter information.

2 It's not about who registers, it's about who actually votes. Registrations are verified. But, it's when that person votes the law is broken...and rarely does that happen. 3. In Kansas over the pass few elections, only a couple of people have been found illegally voting, and it's because they own property in two states, and voted in both states. They were Republican. However, those couple of votes had no effect on election results. 4. Kobach kept 33,000 Kansans from voting this past election. They showed up and found out they had been removed. 5. I went yesterday to renew my driver's license and was told I needed a birth certificate, social security card, and my auto registration for proof of residence where I've lived for 15 years.. I have to pay for the birth certificate. I was born in this state, served in the military, always voted with no problem, but now have to jump through hoops because of Kobach and motor voter.

Steve Hicks 1 month, 2 weeks ago

It's a simple equation, Gary.

If you believe liars, and approvingly repeat their lies, you choose to PERSONALLY own their lies.

Maybe cherry-picking obfuscation is how you self-deceive in your personal moral choices. But the question isn't what California officials choose to do...it's about what you choose to do.

I'd urge you to very seriously re-think the personal moral choices you make. Identifying with lies and liars inevitably has disastrous consequences.

Gary Stussie 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Born and raised in California ... Lots of family still there covering the entire spectrum ... including several members married to illegals! I get a first-hand, pretty clear picture of the issues and have personally witnessed the Democratic Party and Progressive agenda destroy a beautiful state.

Your position seems to be "liar, liar, pants on fire" ... shouldn't you be at school during the day?

Greg Cooper 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Comparing your past comments and Steve's, I'd say that telling him to be in school is putting the tail on the wrong end of the donkey. Or elephant.

Steve Hicks 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Sorry, Gary, I don't buy your pretence of not understanding the difference between right and wrong, and the concept of personal moral choice.

Maybe it's best you you don't self-examine your love of lies. You wouldn't be comfortable with anyone but other Trump-followers.

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