Voting Rights

On the whole, convicted felons lose their right to cast votes in our elections for the rest of their lives. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) wants to restore this right to nonviolent felons.

It’s been a truism in our American jurisprudence and our American society that when a miscreant—a felon in the present case—has paid his debt to society (nominally including a measure of “make whole” his immediate victim), he should be allowed to start over, reenter society, and try to live honorably and on his own efforts rather than continuing to be dependent on society, a dependence begun with his dependence on our prison system for his existence as well as for his punishment.

Now, some crimes want a lifetime punishment, and a few demand the criminal’s life in compensation to society and to the victim.  Most crimes, though, have punishments that society has determined to be sufficient at a smaller price than the criminal’s life or life span.  These crimes are identifiable by their finite jail terms with parole following after release or by their having been suspended on the criminal’s good behavior during the period of suspension.

Many of those short-of-life crimes are violent crimes; Beshear wants to limit his action to non-violent crimes.

In principle, I agree with that.  When a man’s debt has been paid, his bill should be so marked, including with additional detriments, like a fundamental right of citizenship—voting—also lifted.  But we need to be careful with the definition of “non-violent.”  I suggest that a con job is non-violent, or a burglary of an unoccupied building.  I suggest, though, that dealing drugs is not at all non-violent, even if no guns are used: it destroys lives.  Drug dealing has no merely temporary effects.  I suggest, further, that identity theft, for all that no guns may have been involved, is far from non-violent.  Identity theft can destroy a life as thoroughly as drugs: it takes financial resources necessary for the victim’s present life and his future life.

Again, I agree, in principle, with the concept of restoring a citizen’s right to vote to a felon whose crime was non-violent and who has completed his sentence in every respect, including restitution.  But we need to know the details of Beshear’s specific proposal before we can agree that he’s on the right track.

2 thoughts on “Voting Rights

  1. I believe the loss of the franchise was intended to be a part of the punishment (a package deal, as it were), this increasing the deterrent value of the punishment upon conviction. The franchise having been dearly purchased at the time these punishments originated, that had an impact we don’t see today. It may be worth revisiting – but perhaps the franchise has become too cheap.

  2. It may be worth revisiting – but perhaps the franchise has become too cheap.
    It is worth revisiting. And it’s worth considering whether it’s appropriate all classes of felons should be punished for life because some classes of felons deserve lifetime punishments.
    The franchise becoming too cheap is separate from that.
    Eric Hines

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