Minority of One blog

Give felons the vote

In this country, going to prison doesn't mean losing all your rights forever. Ex-convicts enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right against self-incrimination, and even the right against unreasonable searches. But in 11 states, their right to vote is restricted, and in four (Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia), it's entirely gone for good.

It's hard to understand the point of felony disenfranchisement, which Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday urged states to abandon. We want ex-convicts to give up crime, hold down honest jobs, fulfill their family responsibilities and generally become upstanding members of their communities.

Barring them from the polls, on the theory that they are permanently irredeemable, doesn't encourage them to integrate into society. It tells them that no matter how well they conduct themselves, they'll never escape the stain of their past and never make their voices heard.

Who loses from this policy? Not the incorrigible crooks, who have better things to do with their time than attend candidate forums put on by the League of Women Voters. The losers are the men and women who have resolved to straighten out their lives. ¿

Nor do these bans serve any deterrent function. If a term in Pontiac  Correctional Center can't dissuade a young gang member from robbing or mugging, the prospect of being turned away by a voting registrar is not likely to change his mind.

As Holder noted, these laws were created in many Southern states after the Civil War to keep blacks from voting -- and they disqualify one of every 13 African-American adults. That's another good reason to get rid of them.

It's heartening that, as Holder mentioned, 23 states "have enacted meaningful reforms" since 1997. Among them are solid Republican states like Texas and Nebraska, where the GOP might be expected to see the status quo as politically advantageous.

They deserve credit for ignoring the political implications and doing the right thing. Other states should follow suit.

CHICAGO

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