Thursday, March 10, 2005

SHOULD FELONS HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE? Should blacks? Should women? Should people who don't vote in every election? Should people who haven't gone to college? Should people who don't read newspapers? Jonah Goldberg of the National Review writes, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, that there are far too many "uninformed louts" voting as it is; the franchise should be narrowed, not broadened.

Goldberg says the only reason Democrats want to change the laws permanently stripping ex-felons of the right to vote is because "criminals tend to vote for Democrats." He is referring, of course, to criminals who are poor, black, or both -- not to the criminals in the boardrooms of corporations like Enron. In fact, he pretty much says this:

That Democrats do better in the ex-offender community undoubtedly has less to do with their simpatico outlook with thieves, robbers and rapists and more to do with the lamentable fact that the prison population is disproportionately made up of poor, underprivileged, nonwhite men. Not surprisingly, liberals are more than eager to turn the prison ballot into the race card. A Stanford Law Review article calls it "the new literacy test." The New York Times' Brent Staples asserts that "legal scholars attribute [felon disenfranchisement] to this country's difficulties with race." The president of the American Bar Assn. claims that the "origins of America's felony disenfranchisement laws are linked to post-Civil War efforts to disenfranchise former slaves, a sad racial legacy that manifests itself today in the fact that people of color make up more than 60% of our nation's prison population."

Could it possibly be that Republicans like Goldberg support disenfranchising ex-felons permanently for the very same reason -- because the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and black and that segment of the population tends to vote Democratic?

Kevin Drum responds to Goldberg's fascist fantasies with great eloquence:

If you asked me to name the most fundamental rights of U.S. citizen — the absolute minimum core that we could have and still call ourselves America — I'd name three: freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and the right to vote. The government should not be in the business of limiting any of these things except in the most extreme cases.

Felons who have paid their debt have paid their debt. Once they've served their time, their right to free speech and their right to a fair trial are restored, and I can't think of any reason why their right to vote shouldn't be too. If you're a citizen, you should get to vote, period.

As for the idea that we should make voting harder in order to keep away the "uninformed louts," I have only one question: who decides who the louts are? National Review? The same magazine that ran an article in 1965 opposing the Voting Rights Act because, "Over most of this century, the great bulk of Southern Negroes have been genuinely unqualified for the franchise"? The magazine whose founder wrote sympathetically that, "In much of the South, what is so greatly feared is irresponsible, mobocratic rule, and it is a fear not easily dissipated, because it is well-grounded that if the entire Negro population in the South were suddenly given the vote, and were to use it as a bloc, and pursuant to directives handed down by some of the more demagogic leaders, chaos would ensue"?

I think not.

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