Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has issued an order removing the disqualification from voting for felons who have completed their time, both in custody and on parole or probation. This order will allow more than 200,000 ex-cons in Virginia to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Everyone understands that the Democratic candidate, presumably Hillary Clinton (for whom McAuliffe has carried much water), will gobble up the overwhelming majority of these vote. However, McAuliffe denies that this was his motive for allowing felons to vote. He says it’s the right thing to do.
In support of this proposition, McAuliffe points out that the ban on felon voting “disproportionately affects racial minorities and economically disadvantaged Virginians.” In addition he “reject[s] the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts” and “deserve to re-enter society on fair and just terms.”
Only a fool would believe that McAuliffe, an ambitious politician and long-time operative, wasn’t motivated mainly by the thought of political benefit. But this doesn’t mean he’s not sincere when he says he’s doing the right thing. Indeed, I’m pretty McAuliffe does believe he is.
Mick Jaggar used to sing that “. . .every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints.” Most of the modern American left doesn’t go quite that far, but it does view criminals as, in large measure, victims (and many police officers as abusive, if not criminal).
McAuliffe tips his hand when he refers to “economically disadvantaged Virginians.” The “economically disadvantaged” are not a protected class under any statute. From a legal standpoint, they are no more exempt from personal responsibility and the obligation to obey the law than anyone else.
Why, then, does McAuliffe rely on economic status? I’m pretty sure it’s because he believes that criminals as a group have gotten the short end of the economic stick and therefore, from a moral standpoint, are victims. As such, they deserve to have their voting rights restored once they have served their time (and deserve to have their time shortened).
McAuliffe’s reference to “racial minorities” is another note in his “victimization” riff. It makes no sense in any other context. As Kent Scheidegger argues:
Racial discrimination, by definition, is discrimination on the basis of race itself rather than what a person has individually done or individually deserves. Felon disenfranchisement operates directly on the individual’s choice to commit a serious violation of law without regard to race and is therefore the antithesis of racial discrimination. Numbers and so-called “disproportionate impact” are irrelevant when the connection to individual desert is as clear as it is in this case.
McAuliffe’s utterances about “indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts” and re-entry into society “on fair and just terms” is not, as a matter of logic, a defense to an order as sweeping as his. Recidivism statistics tell us that felons released from prison are likely to commit more crimes. Thus, there is nothing inappropriate about their stigmatization.
Nor need the stigmatization be “indefinite and unforgiving.” An order that enabled felons to apply for voting rights after demonstrated rehabilitation with a period of obedience to the law, coupled with lawful employment, would avoid the harshness McAuliffe claims to be concerned about.
It would not, however, produce large numbers of new Democratic voters quickly enough. That’s why McAuliffe did not issue such an order.
The problem of recidivism is a central objection to the wholesale enfranchisement of felons (though not the only one). Because most felons are likely to commit new crimes, they have a strong interest in policies that are soft on crime. They are a constituency, and not a small one, for favoring criminals over victims. It is not in society’s interest to create such a constituency.
For years, this concern was mainly theoretical. The crime wave of the 1970s made it highly improbable that either party would pander to felons even if they had the right to vote. The backlash by non-felons would be too strong.
Thanks in large part to the success of strong anti-crime measures (including stiff mandatory minimum sentences), this calculus no longer seems to apply. Democrats now feel free to pander to criminals, and will feel freer to do so if many more of them can vote.
And here’s the saddest part. Nowadays, as noted above, when Democrats like McAuliffe push for pro-criminal measures, they aren’t just pandering; they are also expressing their inner leftism.
UPDATE: Scheidegger also points out that McAuliffe did not restore gun rights for felons. Yet, this decision has a disproportionately negative impact on the rights of blacks and poor people who wish to hunt and/or protect themselves. Thus, McAuliffe’s order flunks the “fairness” test by his definition.
Given the problem of recidivism, it would be daft to restore gun rights for felons. Given the same problem. it is bad public policy to create a voting bloc of once-and-future criminals.