FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No Voting Rights for Felons: Unfair, Anti-Democratic, and, Yes, “Nonsensical”

In late January, US District Judge Mark Walker struck down Florida’s rules for restoring the voting rights of former convicts, finding those rules not just unconstitutional (on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds) but “nonsensical.”

Why nonsensical? Because “disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.”

If a panel of  appointed bureaucrats (or the governor) doesn’t like you, you don’t get to vote. Maybe they don’t believe you’ve truly “reformed.” Maybe they don’t like your perceived partisan affiliation. Maybe they just don’t like your skin color.

In fact, the system would be “nonsensical” even if it didn’t leave the decision in the hands of partisan hacks. If the Declaration of Independence is to be taken even a little bit seriously, that system is completely out of line with American values.

Only four states  (Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia) fail to automatically restore the vote to convicts at the ends of their sentences. Maine, Vermont, and the US territory of Puerto Rico don’t just restore voting rights at end of sentence — they allow prisoners to vote.

The Declaration of Independence lays out a clear bottom line standard for the legitimacy of government: The consent of the governed.

We could argue about what consent really means, but where democracy is the form of government, the vote is traditionally deemed the instrument of that consent, and in America expanding the franchise — to former slaves, then to women, then to all citizens down to the age of 18 — has been the trend for 150 years.

Prisoners are certainly “governed,” and to a far greater degree than most of us. They live in cages. They’re told when to get up, when to go to sleep, and what to do in between, with draconian punishments for disobedience.  Once their sentences are completed, they’ve supposedly “paid their debt to society” (would that our justice system emphasized restitution to real victims rather than the myth that “society” is or can be owed anything, but that’s a subject for another column). On what grounds can former — or, for that matter, current — be legitimately forbidden the vote if “consent of the governed” is truly the standard and the vote is truly its expression?

Florida’s existing voters will have an opportunity this November to pass a constitutional amendment ending their state’s “nonsensical” system and restoring voting rights automatically to felons who complete their sentences.

That’s a good first step.

Next, how about a federal voting rights suit on behalf of all those who are governed but forbidden the legal ability to supposedly consent?

And, finally, how about a dramatic reduction in the scope and severity of government power that we supposedly consent TO?

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail