Should convicted felons be able to vote? How about when they have finished serving their time and returned to civil society? It’s a subject which has been handled in various fashions by different states, but the most recent debate took place in Maryland, where legislators passed a new law which would return those rights to all convicts the day they walk out of prison. That move has been put on hold – at least for now – since Governor Hogan broke out the veto pen.
So is this a silencing of the fundamental rights of someone who has paid their debt to society or a sound precaution? Roger Clegg takes the correct approach at National Review.
Maryland governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill Friday that would have reenfranchised felons on the day they walk out of prison — even if the parole/probation part of their sentences had not been served. Good for him.
As I and other conservatives had pointed out to him, such automatic reenfranchisement is “premature and unwise.”
To elaborate: If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison — let alone when parole/probation have not even been served. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.
Whether you’re a constitutional scholar or a pundit arguing from the cheap seats, this one dips into a tough question. Citizens are born with certain undeniable rights, and pretty much everyone can agree on that. But can you lose those rights? The Second Amendment certainly has been limited for those convicted of violent offenses. They vary from state to state quite a bit, but if you demonstrate that you can’t be trusted with a gun (to the point where you have endangered the rest of society and/or cost others their lives) we can take away that right. And to be clear, you’d have to look long and hard to find someone who is more of an advocate of the right to keep and bear arms than yours truly, but even I’ve been on board with that where it seems appropriate.
But what about the right to vote? It’s easy enough to say that you can’t kill someone with your vote, but in some ways it’s a bigger responsibility than the duty to not rob others of their right to life, liberty and happiness by shooting them. Taken to the logical extreme, you can wind up costing a lot of people their lives with your vote if you select someone bad enough. But that’s a specious argument at best. All of the non-felons bear the same responsibility and nobody is talking about taking away their vote.
Still, if we can take away the right to keep and bear arms from felons, it would seem that the right to vote would fall in the same basket. After all, we are voting in most all cases to elect those who will pass our laws. Should those who place no value on those laws and break them in hideous fashion be entrusted with the power to elect those who pass them?
As I said… a tricky question. But my gut feeling is that the states can – and should – make the call.