I’d thought this issue was pretty much off the table, but as is fitting for Halloween, it’s rising up from the grave like a zombie yet again. A Democratic state senator in New York has introduced a controversial bill that would allow convicted felons currently serving time in prison to vote from inside the lock-up. His rationale? If we count prisoners in the census, why shouldn’t their votes count at the polls on election day? Don’t ask me to explain the “logic” behind this. I just work here, folks. (NY Post)
State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) introduced a new bill ahead of election day next Tuesday, Nov. 5, allowing prisoners to register and vote from prison.
The state and county board of elections would administer the new program. Convicted felons would also be allowed to participate.
“If an incarcerated individual can be counted as a whole person in the census, then why can’t their vote be counted in an election?” explained Parker in the bill memo, arguing current laws unfairly disenfranchise incarcerated minorities.
So Parker is arguing that denying prisoners the right to vote while in jail “disenfranchises incarcerated minorities.” Wait a minute… is he saying that convicted felons tend to be mostly minorities? Isn’t that kind of racist, Senator? Or are you suggesting that only minorities in prison should be allowed to vote, but not white inmates? I’m confused.
I will give the sponsors of this bill credit for addressing at least one of the (many) problems with bills like this one we’ve seen in the past. There’s a provision in the legislation saying that the votes would be counted in the precincts where the prisoner lived before being locked up, not in the district where the prison sits. Previous bills would have seen all the votes counted locally. Since some of the state’s largest prisons are located in sparsely populated townships, the prisoners would, in some cases, outnumber the local residents and they would effectively be deciding all of the local elections despite having no real connection with or ties to the community.
In a hopeful signal from his party, Parker’s bill immediately drew criticism from Democrats in Albany. Long Island Sen. Monica Martinez (D) is quoted as saying, “If an individual has committed a crime and is incarcerated, they have lost the right to vote. They should serve their sentence and not be allowed to exercise a right they once held.”
Another Senator opined, “This bill is a distraction from the real issues…it shouldn’t be a priority of anyone’s right now, much less even be taking up the legislatures time.”
So perhaps there’s hope after all. If you violate the rules of society to the point where you needed to be locked away in a cell, your voice doesn’t need to be included in decisions made by the voting public. Once you are released and have paid your debt to society (and presumably been reformed), you can (in many states) be allowed to return to the polls. There’s no need to abandon this principle in the name of wokeness.