Voting for Felons – Update for July 27, 2016

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vote160726The kerfluffle over felon disenfranchisement continues in Virginia. Last April, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe – a Democrat who worked closely with the Clintons before being elected governor in the Commonwealth – restored the voting rights of all ex-felons in the state.

Although McAuliffe had the power to restore voting rights to ex-felons on an individual basis, opponents argued that his authority did not extend to restoring the rights to every felon at once. Last Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed, and nullified the governor’s clemency order.

This week, McAuliffe vowed to sign individual orders restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons living in the state. Republicans have complained that McAuliffe’s move is a cynical political ploy, one that assumes that ex-felons will tend to vote for Democrats and not Republicans, and promised to scrutinize all of the enfranchisement orders for errors.

Virginia is one of just 12 states not permitting ex-felons to vote automatically upon release from prison. However, only two states – Main and Vermont – permit felons to vote while they are in prison.

In a Washington Post article yesterday, Yale law professor Gideon Yaffe argued that all states should not just ex-felons vote, but indeed let them vote while they are incarcerated. He argued that “most felons — whether in prison, on probation or parole, or entirely free of state supervision — are citizens. They should not be treated like foreigners. First of all, they have no other geographic home: They cannot be deported, because citizens have a right to be here. But felons also have no other political home. Nowhere else can they live under a government whose actions are their actions. In this way, they are importantly different from immigrants, who (if they come from a place governed by the rule of law) are granted a say over the behavior of some government somewhere.”

Prof. Yaffe argued that felons were deemed competent to stand trial, so they should be considered competent to vote. He argued, “Many liberals supported McAuliffe’s actions for the wrong reasons. “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, for instance, repeatedly noted that McAuliffe wants to restore the vote to people who have “served their time.” But even those still serving time are held to account for any crimes they commit in prison. Denying them the vote destroys the fundamental justification for standing by while the state punishes them — namely, that they brought it on themselves.”

Yaffe, Give felons and prisoners the right to vote, Washington Post, July 26, 2016


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