Debate over felon voting

This week NPR's Justice Talking has an hour long show on letting felons vote. For about a half hour of that show I debate Spencer Overton, a very reasonable professor from George Washington University Law School.
It has never been clear to me why people claim that voting is the most important collateral penalty imposed on criminals after conviction given that everything that I have heard indicates that felons themselves care much more about what jobs they can get and their ability to own a gun for defense. Here is Spencer's take on the discussion. I will let what I said in the debate in response to Spencer's notes on his blog speak for themselves. On the general issue, my bottom line is that barring felons from voting is justified on two grounds: 1) it is just another penalty that we impose on people to discourage them from committing crime. 2) You have learned something about a person who has committed multiple rapes or violent robberies or murders. It seems entirely reasonable to me that if some rapes multiple women, you don't want this person making social policy. There is something different about a person who can commit rape. The interesting thing to me in the debates that I have done on this subject is that those who want to let felons vote have no problem with banning them from owning a gun. They will even ban people who have committed misdemeanors from ever owning a gun.

Further note: The Sentencing Project has a list of 20 states since 2000 that have made it easier for felons to vote.


Blogger saturdaynightspecial said...

"...those who want to let felons vote have no problem with banning them from owning a gun."

and they have no problem keeping law-abiding citizens from having a gun too.

I think restricting the vote is a good idea (even though the US Supreme Court has dealt with this many times.) I also believe many felons should only be temporarily denied their voting privilege. For some felons it should not be permanent (Malcolm X).

10/27/2006 3:53 PM  
Anonymous G. Venable said...

I share Professor Lott's amazement that some would let a felon vote but not let him protect himself with a firearm. While I'm still of an opinion that persons convicted of violent crimes probably shouldn't have legal access to guns, I think maybe we could give ALL rights back to others only after the full sentence would have expired(i.e. you're paroled 6 years into a 25 year sentence, your rights return after the full 25 years).The folks wanting to let felons vote apparently think these people have paid their debt to society - if true, then ALL rights should be restored when that debt is fully paid, if any are.

10/27/2006 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spencer Overton makes the following statement in his blog, " (Virginia, Florida, and Kentucky are alone with Armenia as the only democracies in the world that disenfranchise all citizens who commit felonies for life, even after they have served their sentences). "

I find this interesting in that Jon Gutmaker in his book, Florida Firearms has a whole chapter on dealing with Legal Disabilities. He describes the process of restoring one rights both voting and firearms.

10/29/2006 11:25 AM  
Anonymous tomWright said...

If, after serving a sentence for a crime, a person still can not be trusted with the full responsibility of citizenship they should not be released.

This goes for gun ownership, voting or walking down the street.

Once released though, they should be returned to the same status as everyone else. Otherwise we have a second class of person, a non-citizen disenfranchised from larger society and alienated, rather than engaged in it.

In addition, if the right to have a say in your government is dependent on following the rules of that government, dissent can be defined as a crime and your voice silenced at the polls.

A very large portion of minority communities in the US know this, most of all the Black community that is so heavily targeted in the war on drugs. If I recall correctly, more Black males have been incarcerated and lost the right to vote, than are now in college. This is a huge shame on our nation.

Now think about the recent calls for trials of global warming dissenters on grounds of crimes against humanity, laws that restrict political speech near election days, herding protesters into 'free speech' zones on campus ro near political events like presidential appearance, and you can see that both the left and the right have the potential to abuse criminal law to make felons out of the opposition.

Silencing any part of the population is one of many steps towards tyranny. I think we can live with five percent or so of the population having the right to vote and being felons at the same time. The one half of one percent that are truly dangerous likely wont vote, or will be in prison. The rest should probably never have been in jail in the first place.

Let em vote or keep em in jail.

10/29/2006 5:09 PM  

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