The right to vote for felons continues to be in the news. I knew nothing about the issue until Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that his administration would restore felon’s voting rights. Now California is getting into the act.
Governor McAuliffe first issued an executive order in April that would restore voting rights to more than 200,000 people who have served their sentences and completed their parole or probation. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Governor could not restore felons’ voting rights in such a large group. The ruling by the court did not stop the Governor. He announced that “his administration would process applications for 13,000 felons so that they might vote in November.”
Governor McAuliffe wants to restore the rights of felons who have paid the price for breaking the law. They have served their sentences and completed parole and/or probation. “These individuals are gainfully employed. They send their children and their grandchildren to our schools. They shop in our grocery stores and they pay taxes. And I am not content to condemn them for eternity as inferior second-class citizens.”
The Governor’s statement makes sense to me. They broke the law, were caught, and paid the price for their crime. Why should they continue to be punished?
The case in California makes little sense to me. Governor Brown has a bill before him that would “allow tens of thousands of incarcerated felons to vote, while continuing to deny the vote to others.” The 50,000 felons affected by this bill are incarcerated in county jails; the felons who would not be able to vote are serving their sentences in prisons. Californians seem to have a problem deciding exactly what “imprisoned” means in their state constitution.
Fred Lucas at The Daily Signal discusses the California situation. “If the bill becomes law, it would create an odd circumstance in which inmates out of prison on parole are prohibited from voting, but felons behind bars in county jails could vote, said Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which represents 58 county sheriffs.
“`We think that it’s appropriate to keep felons from voting while they are incarcerated,’ Salzillo told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. `Our notion is that it’s a consequence of being incarcerated. Society has said for a certain period of time you are precluded from participating in certain aspects of civic life.’”
I did a little more research on the issue and discovered that disenfranchisement has been around since ancient Greece and Rome. This site states that “A condition called `civil death’ in Europe involved the forfeiture of property, the loss of the right to appear in court, and a prohibition on entering into contracts, as well as the loss of voting rights. Civil death was brought to America by English colonists, but most aspects of it were eventually abolished, leaving only felon disenfranchisement intact in some parts of modern America.”
Apparently, the decision about who has the right to vote is a states’ rights issue. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose the right to vote. Felons in the District of Columbia and 13 states lose the right to vote only while incarcerated with right automatically restored upon release. Felons in 29 other states lose the right to vote while incarcerated, on parole, or on probation with automatic restoration when completed. Felons in nine states have to wait for their voting rights to be restored by governor or court actions. Some of those nine states fall in other categories but have special conditions that must be met.
I can see from the above site that felon voting rights continue to change in different states, but I believe California has taken a big jump. When they are kept in county jails or state prisons, felons who are incarcerated have not paid their debt to society; therefore, they have given up the civic right to vote until they have repaid the debt. Even though felons tend to vote liberal, I do not believe in keeping them as second-class citizens. Once they have completed the punishments dictated by the courts, felons should have their voting rights restored.