Center for Equal Opportunity

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A “NO” to Automatic Felon Voting in Nebraska

The Center for Equal Opportunity has been busy of late with Nebraska — and, specifically, with urging its governor to veto a bill that would automatically allow felons to vote the day they walked out of prison. We wrote directly to the governor, for example, and also published this in the state’s largest newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald:

No automatic felon enfranchisement

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts should veto the bill that would automatically restore the right to vote for felons when they walk out of prison (“Ricketts won’t sign bill on felon voting rights,” April 26 World-Herald).

If you aren’t willing to follow laws yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making laws for everyone else.

The right to vote should be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf. The current two-year waiting period makes perfect sense and provides incentive for the felon to reintegrate himself into civil society. After all, the unfortunate truth is that many people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.

We don’t let everyone vote — children and non-citizens, for instance. We have certain minimum objective standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that we require before people are entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government.

People who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens cannot be entrusted with this right until they earn it back.

We were extremely gratified, then, that late last week Governor Ricketts did indeed veto that bill. 


A fair amount of the controversy specific to this legislative fight had to do with the claim that allowing felons to vote would decrease recidivism — a claim the governor rightly rejected as unsupported by the evidence, and which he also countered by noting that automatic reenfranchisement would remove an incentive for felons to turn over a new leaf.

In that regard, it’s worth quoting this section from a paper that I coauthored a few years ago:

Because the racial and other arguments are so unpersuasive, it is more and more frequently argued that re-enfranchising felons is a good way to reintegrate them into society. Attorney General Eric Holder has even claimed that felon disenfranchisement laws promote recidivism. As former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has pointed out, however, that claim, which derives from a study in Florida, is flawed:

Florida has had, and indeed has broadened, a system that requires felons to go through an application process before their voting rights are restored. Obviously, those who are motivated to navigate such a process self-select as a group less likely to repeat their crimes. Suggesting that the automatic restoration of voting rights to all felons would lower recidivism is rather like suggesting that we can raise the incomes of all college students if we automatically grant them a college degree — because statistics show that people with college degrees have higher incomes than those without them. 

Reintegration of felons into the community is an important goal, and this paper recognizes that restoration of voting rights can be a part of that process. Conversely, it is also important not to suggest to felons that it is hopeless for them to want to rejoin that community.

But restoration of voting rights should be done carefully and on a case-by-case basis once the felon can establish in fact that he has turned over a new leaf. When that has been shown, then holding a ceremony — rather like a naturalization ceremony — in which the felon’s voting rights are fully restored would be moving and meaningful. Restoration, however, should not be automatic, because the change of heart cannot be presumed. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in eventually.

Automatic felon re-enfranchisement sends a bad message: It says that Americans do not consider criminal behavior so serious that the right to vote should be denied because of it. Not allowing criminals to vote is also a form of punishment and a method of stigmatization that tells criminals that committing a serious crime puts them outside the circle of responsible citizens. Being readmitted to the circle should not be automatic.

While it is true that a disproportionate number of African Americans are being disenfranchised for committing serious crimes, their victims also are disproportionately black. The logical focus of an organization like the NAACP should be on discouraging the commission of such crimes rather than minimizing their consequences. 


It’s too early to uncork the champagne, however: The Nebraska bill’s proponents have announced that they will try to override the governor’s veto. So the Center for Equal Opportunity will now turn its focus back to the legislature. Wish us luck!


A few weeks ago, I noted that some folks on the Left seem to think it is outrageous that Candice Jackson, the new acting head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has criticized the use of racial preferences by universities, a.k.a. affirmative action. But what would be outrageous, I said, would be if the Trump administration were to put someone into this job who did not criticize such preferences. 

To be sure, I continued, the Supreme Court has, alas, for now ruled that such discrimination is permissible in limited circumstances, but the head of OCR should be someone who will indeed insist that this discrimination be limited, and who will work with the Justice Department for the eventual ban — by the Court or by the political branches — on politically correct racial discrimination in public and other taxpayer-supported universities. 

More recently, these same left-wing groups sent a letter to Ms. Jackson’s boss, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, attacking Ms. Jackson’s appointment. So I sent this letter of support to the latter: 

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Jackson:

Congratulations on your recent appointment!

We already love you for the enemies you have made. In that vein, you might enjoy this item I recently posted on National Review Online: 

And I see that now the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has attacked you. The letter it sent to Secretary DeVos is not exactly tactful; the paragraph aimed at you boils down to, “Since you, Secretary DeVos, are an ignorant bigot, we hope you won’t appoint another one.” Sheesh. I found particular laughable its attack on your “claims that equal opportunity/affirmative action policies discriminate against White students.” Well, of course they do: The very definition of a “racial preference” (the phrase the Supreme Court uses in this context) is that some get preferred — and therefore some get treated less well — because of skin color. We can argue about whether the discrimination is somehow justified or legal, but it IS discrimination. And, as a matter of fact, it’s not justified and should not be legal either.

Your critics are likewise wrong about both law and policy in their Title IX (gender identity/sexual assault) and “disparate impact” agendas. I could go on, but you get the idea. Your critics don’t know what they are talking about.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email — and, again, congratulations on your new post. You have our support!

Best regards,

Roger Clegg
President and General Counsel
Center for Equal Opportunity