Eric Holder gave a speech yesterday in which he called for the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons once their sentences have been served. A few thoughts on this; I may write more depending on how seriously Mr. Holder’s dishonest speech appears to be taken.
He conveniently ignores the reason for felon disenfranchisement, namely that if you aren’t willing to follow the law, then you can hardly claim a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility, trustworthiness, and commitment to our laws that we require of people before they are entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. And so we don’t allow everyone to vote: not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not people who have been convicted of committing serious crimes against their fellow citizens.
The right to vote can be restored, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis, once a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf. The high recidivism rates that Mr. Holder acknowledges in his speech just show why that new leaf cannot be presumed simply because someone has walked out of prison; he’ll probably be walking back in, alas. A better approach to the re-integration that Mr. Holder wants is to wait some period of time, review the felon’s record and, if he has shown he is now a positive part of his community, then have a formal ceremony — rather like a naturalization ceremony — in which his rights are restored.
Mr. Holder ignores all this, and plays the race card, by suggesting that there is a racial agenda behind these laws, which is simply not true. Too bad.