Despite President George W. Bush's high poll numbers, the Democrats think they have the key to winning the 2004 elections. Get the votes of convicted felons. Don't laugh; the Democrats are deadly serious.
The nation's 4 million convicted felons could be enough to swing the November election. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority would vote Democratic if they could, so felons are a voting bloc that Democrats are just itching to harvest.
In addition to providing the magic bullet to elect their candidates in November, this issue reprises all the sour grapes whining by Democrats about the president winning Florida in 2000. The Democrats know that if felons had been allowed to vote in Florida, Al Gore would have won Florida and be president today.
The laws of 48 states restrict the ability of convicted felons to vote, and those state laws vary widely.
State laws may distinguish between those who are now behind bars and those who have been released, or whether they are repeat offenders, or whether they are violent or nonviolent offenders, or whether they are parolees or probationers. Maine and Vermont allow convicts to vote even when they are in prison.
Allowing felons to vote is highly unpopular with Americans, but laws are amended from time to time. Since 1996, nine states have repealed a few of their voting barriers for convicted felons, while three states made their laws tougher.
These changes don't appear to have anything to do with partisanship or geography. The states easing their bans were Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. The states that toughened their policies were Massachusetts (by constitutional amendment), Utah and Kansas.
The Democrats haven't a chance for wholesale repeal of these laws. So the are doing what liberals always do: They line up the American Civil Liberties Union and other left-wing lawyers and seek out activist judges to issue rulings that elected legislators will not make.
Democrats are using a study made by two sociologists, one at the University of Minnesota and the other at Northwestern University, suggesting that, since 1978, seven U.S. Senate races plus the 2000 presidential election would have turned out differently if felons had been allowed to vote. The professors estimate that Florida felons would have given Al Gore an additional 60,000 votes, more than enough to wipe out Bush's narrow margin of victory.
To try to give convicted felons the franchise, Democrats are playing the race card, asserting that state laws have a "disparate impact" on blacks and Hispanics and therefore violate equal-protection guarantees. The laws, of course, are colorblind.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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