The Corner

The Felon Vote

The Post has story on how the ACLU, People for the American Way, and other Democratic organs and activists are working hard to register ex-cons. In the words of the protagonist of the piece, Florida civil rights lawyer Reggie Mitchell:

“The majority of people to get their rights restored are Democrats, and if we get them registered, [we] might overtake the state,” he said.

(Peter Kirsanow recently mentioned the “Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act of 2007″ as a bill that could be fast-tracked by an Obama Administration.)

Republicans are right to be skeptical of such moves, though the political concern is less serious than some might expect — while I’m sure that ex-cons overwhelmingly embrace Democratic positions, the subset of former felons who’ve gotten their lives together and know when election day is and actually get out of bed to vote is likely to be less overwhelmingly Democratic than ex-felons as a whole.

But there is an important policy point here that we shouldn’t avoid. David Frum has written something to the effect that since Republicans have been the driving force behind the successful use of expanded incarceration to reduce crime, they have a responsibility to see that prisons are run responsibly. Though he was referring, if I remember correctly, to efforts to prevent prison rape, the point applies to ex-cons as well — we have a responsibility to help ex-cons who have reformed to re-incorporate into society. That includes not only limits on unskilled immigration, to improve their chances of getting back into the job market, but also mechanisms for them to re-acquire political rights. But rather than sign on to Democratic voter-creation measures, Republicans should develop a distinctive approach, enabling ex-cons to be naturalized citizens, as it were. They should be required to take citizenship classes and pass a test demonstrating knowledge of American history and civics, followed by a citizenship ceremony wherein they take some variant of the citizenship oath.

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