Center for Equal Opportunity

The nation’s only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity.


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Felon voting

It’s an election year, and every election year there is an uptick in the attention given to one of the Center for Equal Opportunity’s issues:  when felons ought to be allowed to vote.


So I was not surprised when National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” asked me to appear on their show this week to debate the issue.  You can listen to my appearance here.

Our position is straightforward:  If you aren’t willing to follow the law, then you can’t demand a right to make the law for everyone else, which is what you do – directly or indirectly – when you vote.  The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison.   (Waiting some period of time makes particular sense in light of the fact that, as even our opponents concede, it is much more likely than not that a released felon will commit additional crimes.)

Look at it this way:  We don’t let everyone vote – not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not people who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens.  There are certain objective, minimum standards of responsibility and trustworthiness and commitment to our laws that must be met before we allow people to participate in the sacred enterprise of self-government.

You can read more about this issue on our website here and in our congressional testimony here.  And the Center for Equal Opportunity has also filed a number of amicus briefs (here’s an example) defending the practice of felon disenfranchisement when it’s been challenged in court under the Voting Rights Act.  I’m proud to say, we’ve been very successful in these efforts.

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By the way, The New York Times had an editorial this week on “Disenfranchised Felons” that ignores the arguments for why people who won’t follow the law shouldn’t have a role in making it.  But the editorial’s silliness goes beyond that.

The editorial asserts, “Courts and scholars have long concluded that race explains why minorities are overrepresented in prison better than any other factor.” Well, no, actually — what is in fact undeniable is that the main reason for this “overrepresentation” is that at this particular time more crimes are committed, proportionally, by some groups than others. I collect some of the sources here.  The fact that some racial groups are more heavily affected by disenfranchisement than others does not make these laws racist, just as the fact that felons are much more likely to be male than female doesn’t make these laws sexist.

Earlier, the editorial also asserts that felons “who are allowed to vote are less likely to return to prison.” But this confuses cause and effect: Rehabilitation results in voting, rather than voting resulting in rehabilitation. People who have turned over a new leaf and are no longer committing crimes, in other words, will probably start behaving like responsible citizens in other ways, like registering to vote — but it seems much less likely that making someone eligible to vote will itself cause him to change his behavior.

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One last point:  Whenever crime is destigmatized, the people hurt the most are the law-abiding folks who live in high-crime areas.  And those people are much more likely to be poor and black or Latino than the general population.  Yet somehow it is these people whom the Left always seems to forget as it goes about its “progressive” crusades.