This column by Roger Clegg and ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published January 15, 2016 by The National Review.
The Maryland state legislature is back in session, and the Democrats have announced that one of their priorities is overriding Governor Larry Hogan’s veto last year of a bill that would automatically re-enfranchise felons when they are released from prison, even if they are still on parole or probation (Maryland already automatically re-enfranchises felons once they are no longer on probation or parole). Governor Hogan is adamant that this is a bad bill.
And Governor Hogan is right, so here’s hoping that the veto-override effort fails.
If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. We don’t let everyone vote — not children, not non-citizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not felons — because we have certain objective, minimum standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that must be met before someone is given a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. People who have committed a serious crime against their fellow citizens don’t meet those standards.
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 — let alone when parole and probation have not yet been served. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Deep down, the Left knows all this; that’s why, though it is happy to let felons vote, it is somehow reluctant to restore their Second Amendment rights.
The Maryland bill’s proponents can’t make the (lame) argument in this case that the felon has “paid his debt to society” because he hasn’t, so now they are arguing that re-enfranchisement leads to less recidivism. But there is no persuasive evidence that this is so, and in fact the claim confuses cause and effect. That is, the people who have turned over a new leaf do not commit crimes, and so they have had their right to vote restored and they vote; they do not decide to turn over a new leaf because their right to vote has been restored.
Thus, while it is frequently claimed that a Florida study supports re-enfranchisement, former attorney general Michael Mukasey has pointed out that this claim 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.”
We have written more about this issue here. Kudos and good luck to Governor Hogan and the Maryland legislators who are supporting him.