Give Ballots to Felons? Do Liberals Who Oppose State Laws Denying Felons the Right to Vote Also Oppose Laws Denying Felons the Right to Own Guns?

Article excerpt

Byline: George F. Will

Under the stopped-clock principle--even a stopped clock is right twice a day--let the record show that Sens. Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Democrats from California, New York and Ohio, respectively, have a tenuous hold on a piece of a point in their election-reform bill that is, however, generally dreadful and, in parts, patently unconstitutional.

The Count Every Vote Act, which might better be called the What's a Little Fraud Among Friends? Act, reflects monomania--the idea that anything that increases the number of ballots cast is wonderful. So the act would make Election Day a federal holiday--and would require states to have Election Day registration, which is an invitation to fraud.

The act would further erode federalism by stripping states of their traditional rights to regulate elections. States would be required to have no-excuse absentee voting and to conform to new federal standards regarding mandatory recounts, provisional ballots, poll workers, early voting, voter waiting times and many other matters.

Liberals have a certain versatility of conviction regarding states' prerogatives. They celebrated stripping states of their right to set abortion policy, but concerning a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, they insist--correctly--that setting marriage law is traditionally the states' prerogative. Now comes the Boxer-Clinton-Jones bill, which is endorsed by a slew of liberal groups. It would override all states' disenfranchisement laws by giving felons the right to vote.

The bill stipulates that there are 4.7 million felons--one in 44 adults--disenfranchised to various degrees under state laws. All states except Maine and Vermont prohibit inmates from voting. Some states ban voting by felons on probation or parole or even those who are no longer under any supervision by the criminal-justice system.

In some cities, more than 50 percent of young African-American men are under such supervision. A large number of prison inmates are African-Americans. Twelve percent of all African-American men in their 20s are incarcerated. More than a third of the 4.7 million disenfranchised felons are African-Americans. In four of the states with lifetime bans for felons, a quarter (Virginia, Iowa) and a third (Florida, Alabama) of all black men are ineligible to vote.

Sentimentalism and cold calculation combine to make felons' voting attractive to liberals. They know that criminals often come from disadvantaging circumstances and think such circumstances are the "root causes" of criminality. …