The Corner

Law & the Courts

Nebraska Governor Vetoes Bill to Automatically Re-Enfranchise Felons

Late last week, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts vetoed a bill that would have automatically re-enfranchised all felons once their sentence has been served, eliminating the two-year waiting period currently in place. Kudos to Governor Ricketts, and here’s hoping that state legislators resist attempts to get them to override that veto. After all, if you’re not willing to follow the law yourself, it can’t be presumed that you should have a role in making the law for everyone else.

Governor Ricketts pointed out that there are problems under the state constitution with the bill, but much of the discussion also hinged on claims that automatic re-enfranchisement somehow combats recidivism. The governor is right that such claims have no empirical basis, and indeed he is also right that automatic re-enfranchisement removes an incentive for the felon to turn over a new leaf once he gets out of prison. Alas, most felons will return to prison, so the change of heart cannot be presumed, and removing an incentive makes no sense. Hans von Spakovsky and I discussed all this in a Heritage Foundation paper.

Reintegration of felons into the community is an important goal, restoration of voting rights can be a part of that process, and it is also important not to suggest to felons that it is hopeless for them to want to rejoin the larger community.

But the existing two-year period provides a way to show that, indeed, a new leaf has been turned over. When that has been shown, then holding a ceremony — rather like a naturalization ceremony — in which the felon’s voting rights are fully restored would be moving and meaningful. Friends and family can come, a congratulatory speech can be given by a local official, and an important civic point can be made. Automatic restoration, on the other hand, foregoes all that.

And automatic felon re-enfranchisement sends an affirmatively bad message: It says that Americans do not consider criminal behavior so serious that the right to vote should be denied because of it. Not allowing criminals to vote tells them and everyone else that committing a serious crime puts them outside the circle of responsible citizens. Being readmitted to the circle should not be automatic. Going two years without committing a new crime — just one election cycle — is not too much to ask.

Most Popular

Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More