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No, Convicted Felons Shouldn't Be Allowed to Vote From Behind Bars

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Earlier in the week, Bernie Sanders endorsed allowing convicted felons to vote -- not after they've paid their debt to society, mind you, but while they're still behind bars.  He framed this stance as an matter of principle on voting rights, implying that opposing arguments are effective endorsements of GOP-backed voter "suppression" efforts.  It's a "slippery slope" he intoned, ignoring the fact that expanding the franchise to incarcerated people would be the opposite of 'chipping away.'  Craven Kamala Harris pronounced herself open to the idea during the same CNN 'town hall' marathon, employing her typical "let's have a conversation" dodge, then walking it back after realizing how badly the radical proposal was playing.  Only Pete Buttigieg flatly rejected the notion, earning strong (and telling) applause from the Democratic audience.  CNN's anchors seemed shocked that Bernie went out on that limb, going so far as to argue that convicted terrorists should be voting in US elections from their Supermax prisons.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff is rallying to this general idea:

If laws are "unjust," then change them.  Applying an "unjustness" standard to the rights of the incarcerated (i.e., treating people convicted of "unjust" laws more generously), is extremely subjective and unworkable on its face.  I think the violent vs. non-violent felon dichotomy being floated by others also fails, despite the two-tiered approach some other counties use:

As another example, why should a white collar criminal who defrauded investors out of millions, or ruined a company -- putting hundreds of people out of work -- be allowed to cancel out any law-abiding citizen's vote from behind bars, whereas some 18-year-old kid who served as as a lookout during an armed car robbery could not?  Or why should public officials sent to prison for corruption be permitted to vote for their cronies, while someone who accidentally paralyzed another person during a drunken bar fight would be treated differently?  My basic argument on this overall issue is that the right to vote is guaranteed to eligible US citizens.  We've made the decision that law-abiding 15-year-old citizens, for instance, are not yet ready to participate in the voting process (despite having first amendment rights to political expression), and that non-citizens are not eligible (though some leftists want to change this, too).  We've also decided that people who commit felonies, and are therefore definitionally not law-abiding, forfeit their ability to vote for lawmakers.  

We deprive felons of all sorts of rights.  They don't have unfettered first amendment rights (they can't say whatever they want), they don't have second amendment rights (for obvious reasons), they don't have fourth amendment rights (agents of the state can toss their cells at random), etc.  Having chosen to infringe upon or extinguish others' rights -- to life, liberty and property, among others -- through their crimes, convicted felons are rightfully forced by the state to surrender many of their own former rights.  Having broken our laws, they should not be able to participate in the process of shaping our laws while serving out their sentences.  As a supporter of criminal justice reform, I'm very open to the idea of restoring felons' voting rights upon release, but Bernie's plan is a far cry from that.  He openly favors, on "principle," the idea that the Boston Marathon bomber should be voting from inside prison walls, as should convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters, and others.  It's wrong, and I suspect it's also deeply unpopular. 

Convicted felons are treated as second class citizens, due to their own actions.  These second class citizens, who've harmed others, should not join regular citizens as we elect representatives to shape our laws, especially while they are still imprisoned for their crimes.  That blanket policy should apply evenly to all incarcerated citizens, even though some felonies are obviously worse than others.  That's why sentences vary from offense to offense.  As Bernie admits, his position is a ready-made attack ad.  I'll leave you with Buttigieg appearing to question whether the Vermont Socialist could win a general election.

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