Why Are We Afraid of ex-Felons Voting?

Opponents of enfranchising probationers and parolees have several rationales of their own. One is that people who have committed serious crimes aren’t people we want influencing our elections, because they’ll vote for candidates who are soft on crime: lenient prosecutors, lenient judges. —“Why Can’t Ex-Cons Vote?”

So, here’s a thought: if such a large percent of our populace is ex-felons that they could have a significant political impact on how we deal with crime and punishment, then we probably *should* be hearing from them. I mean, at the point where 10% of your population is ex-felons, it seems to me that something is wrong, and we *need* some changes in crime and punishment. Maybe those ex-felons have more, not less, legitimacy in weighing in on changes to the criminal justice system.

Heck, isn’t regulatory capture what conservatives are all for, when they can’t just eliminate government?

I’m not even convinced that people currently serving time should be barred from voting. Again, if you have a plurality of the populace in jail, something has gone wrong. If there are enough jailbirds that they can outvote the rest of the populace and set themselves free, maybe they should.

That is the real fear here, right? That they’ll just vote themselves out of jail through reduced sentencing or legalizing their formerly criminal actions or changing parole laws, right? Or, more generally, we’re afraid that if felons can vote, we won’t like what they “say”. Right now, they are voiceless—we don’t have to worry that our punishments are too harsh, or care what it’s like to try to get by in society with a felony conviction, because we do our best to make sure those people don’t have a say.

And I can certainly understand that. Because you know what we’d hear? That people are being made felons for voting. I mean, what better way to keep people disenfranchised than have convoluted rules that can be easily violated, and with no way for someone to fix it if they make a mistake? I would guess that there are more people who have become felons or been deported for the simple act of voting, than there are people who have actually committed intentional vote fraud. We’d probably also hear about how our criminal justice system is doing neither society nor criminals much good, and how recidivism, while certainly the fault of the recidivist, is fed by the many things we don’t let ex-felons do. Like hold a decent job. Or vote to change things so that they can hold a decent job.

Do there need to be consequences for breaking the law? Of course. But how many crimes should really carry with them the consequence of never again having any say in society, for the rest of your life? We’ll let you live here, and pay taxes, and maybe even have a job—but not participate in our democracy? What crime is severe enough to merit that, and yet not severe enough to keep the offender in prison?

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This entry was posted in Society.

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