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George Will On Felon Disenfranchisement


In the current issue of Newsweek, George Will notes many of the constitutional, political, and policy problems with a new federal bill that would, among other things, forbid states from disenfranchising felons. Will does say, however, that “there are two conservative arguments for states to stop, or at least severely limit, disenfranchisement,” namely (1) “there is something troubling about criminal penalties that never completely end,” and (2) by “diminishing the lingering stigma of a felony conviction and by encouraging a civic connection with the community” we might combat recidivism. True enough, but the best way to accomplish these ends is by reenfranchising felons on a case-by-case basis, rather than doing it wholesale. Felons shouldn’t have the right to vote restored on the day they walk out of prison; there should be an evaluation period of at least a year or two; and the restoration should depend on the felon’s good and bad deeds during that period, as well as on what crimes had been committed (murderers and traitors should have to wait longer than forgers and shoplifters), how many, and how recently. In sum, if a felon stays clean for some period of time after getting out of prison, and starts to give something back to his community, he could earn back the franchise, which could be formally restored at a courtroom ceremony similar to the naturalization of immigrants.


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