Friday, February 14, 2014

Should Ex-Cons Be Allowed to Vote? Join Our Debate

This week, United States Attorney General Eric Holder made a plea to Congress to end the practice of ex-felon disenfranchisement common to some states.  According to the National Law Journal:

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. urged Congress today to restore voting rights to felons who are no longer under federal or state supervision, calling restrictions in place now "profoundly outdated."
Holder, speaking at a sentencing reform symposium at Georgetown University Law Center, asked lawmakers to repeal "unjust" and "counterproductive" laws that permanently disenfranchise former prisoners.
"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder said. "They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies."
At some point, 95 percent of all the prisoners in this country will be released, Holder said. There are 5.8 million felons who cannot vote now even though they have served the time and paid the fines they owe, the attorney general said. The right to vote, he said, is critical to the successful re-entry into the community.
One in 13 African-Americans in the country is blocked from voting for this reason, and in states such as Florida, Kentucky it climbs to as high as one in five, Holder said. In Florida, he said, about 10 percent of the population is disenfranchised.
"However well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be – the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated," Holder said. "At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War discrimination."
So should ex-felons be allowed to vote?  Join the Urban Politico staff in the debate after the jump:

SHADY GRADY: This is a state issue. The executive branch has no authority to make changes. IIRC someone from the Florida's governor's office just gleefully pointed that out. The Constitution directly gives the states the power to determine the qualifications for voting, not the Federal government. Exceptions would obviously have to point to the Voting Rights Act or some interpretation of 14th/15th Amendment. So absent some really convoluted SC decision or another Constitutional Amendment, the power to determine qualifications for voting (not counting race or similar things) will remain with the states.
THE JANITOR:  Well not so fast.  The right to vote is a federal right.  The feds have the power to force the states to shape up if a state is infringing that right.
SHADY GRADY: If you are infringing upon the right to vote because of race, sex, non-payment of taxes, age, then sure. If you are saying that felons can't vote forever or for a certain period of time because of what actions they've taken I don't see where the federal government or at least the executive branch has any ability to do a doggone thing about it other than moral suasion, which is what Holder is doing.
THE JANITOR: Sure, states are ALLOWED to set certain minimal to moderate regulations on all federal rights, but at the end of the day the states are not allowed to just outright block federal rights.  That's when the feds are, per the Supremacy Clause in Article 6 of the Constitution, allowed to come in and smack the states around for infringing on federal rights.
SHADY GRADY: If Holder really thought that he would bring a lawsuit.
OLD GURU: Remember that was the biggest argument in Brown vs. Board of Ed, that it was a state issue.
THE JANITOR: Absolutely right.  And I'll do you one better: SLAVERY was a states' rights issue as well.A lot of people (mainly conservatives) have been using the state's rights argument for many many years to push various agendas.  At the end of the day they tend to lose.  
GODSON: Traditionally we have always had to rely on the Federal Government to infringe on states' rights in order to obtain fairness. 
So what say you? 
Should the States which prevent ex-felons from voting be allowed to continue that practice?  Should the Federal Government be able to prevent states from doing so?
State and Federal issues aside, Should ex-convicts be allowed to vote? 
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