The Washington Post has an editorial today criticizing the lawsuit filed this week by Republican leaders of the state legislature against Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe’s recent executive order that restores the right to vote to all felons, no matter their crime.
Let’s start with the most important point: It is ugly and irresponsible for the Post to begin its editorial by saying that the Republican lawsuit is “the latest in a series of GOP measures meant to dilute and minimize the electoral clout of African Americans in the commonwealth.” There is no evidence — and none is cited — that Republicans are acting with racist intent here, and shame on the Post for making this baseless and libelous accusation.
At the end of the editorial, the Post says that disenfranchising felons “serves no social purpose,” but this is false, too. If you aren’t willing to follow the law, then you can’t demand the right to make the laws for everyone else. We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that we demand of people before allowing them to participate in the solemn enterprise of self-government, and some people don’t meet those standards: children, noncitizens, the mentally incompetent, and people who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens.
In the middle, the editorial misstates the history of Virginia’s disenfranchisement law: While just after Reconstruction the law was indeed tweaked in a way aimed at the newly freed slaves, the law now on the books has no racial animus, and indeed Virginia disenfranchised felons before the Civil War, when blacks were not allowed to vote anyway. The editorial also ignores the fact that the Republican lawsuit’s interpretation of the state constitution was shared by, for example, the administration of a recent Democratic governor and many others, as Hans von Spakovsky and I discussed on NRO here. And the editorial uses the hackneyed and — as I discuss here — misleading cliche that felons no longer in prison should be able to vote because they have “paid their debt to society.”
The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.
But let me end where I began: While wrongheaded, it’s not irresponsible for the Post to think that felons should be able to vote. But it is irresponsible for it to say that those who disagree with it on this point can only be motivated by a racist desire to keep black people from voting.