When Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order that automatically restored voting rights to felons last year, he also restored to them other civic rights, like running for state office. As a result, Nathan Larson — who in 2009 pled guilty to threatening to kill the U.S. president, leading to 16 months in prison and three years of supervised release — has now thrown his hat in the ring for election to the Virginia House of Delegates.
I think this case underscores why it makes perfect sense to take away certain rights from felons, at least until they have served their sentences in full and then shown they have turned over a new leaf by going some period of time without committing a new crime. If you won’t follow the law yourself, you can’t claim a right to make the law for everyone else.
Or look at it this way: We don’t let everyone vote, because there are certain minimum, objective standards — of responsibility, trustworthiness, and commitment to our laws — that we require of people before they can be entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. Children, noncitizens, the mentally incompetent, and those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens don’t meet those standards.
The Left thinks that felons should be allowed to vote, and indeed the ultimate aim is for not only all released felons but all those still in prison to be able to vote. I was in a debate on this topic once when my opponent said he thought it was just wonderful that the assassin of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin would still be allowed to vote, from prison, in that country. That, I said, was crazy.
Automatically giving the right to vote and hold office back to a person who wanted to kill the president dramatizes the connection we ought to recognize between being civically responsible and having civic rights.