Magazine article Insight on the News

Good Folks Asleep? Let the Felons Vote

Magazine article Insight on the News

Good Folks Asleep? Let the Felons Vote

Article excerpt

Those who devote themselves to civic good works have their knickers in a knot over low voter turnout. Only about half of those eligible to vote in national elections bother to do so any longer, and in state and local primaries the percentage sinks like a brick in a pond.

This decline has led to such inane federal initiatives as the so-called Motor-Voter law in which state driver's-licensing agencies wrestle applicants to the ground and force a completed voter-registration card into their pocket. There's even been a recent trial balloon that voting should be made mandatory in the United States, as is the glorious drill in totalitarian societies and backwater sovereignties.

Explanations for the pervasive lack of interest in the ballot in this country generally come in two disparate flavors: The first is that the good times are rolling and most of us are satisfied with the way the railroad is running. (An intriguing exception may be the utterly unexpected election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota.)

The other explanation, contradictory though it be, is that Americans have become so disdainful of politicians and so disenchanted with public affairs that they express their grumpiness by ignoring election day. Well, either or both, perhaps. More than six California cities, for instance, have canceled spring elections because no one has filed to challenge the incumbents, automatically extending their terms.

Whichever of these diagnoses is valid, it is unarguably the case that the democratic fabric is frayed by those who neither appreciate the hard-won privilege of the vote nor accept the obligations of citizenship. The question, however, is what government feasibly and reasonably can do to revive voter turnout. Requiring civics courses in high school might be efficacious, but that would be considered hopelessly archaic.

Unfortunately, there is now one remedial proposal that is based as much or more on political expediency and ideological opportunism: This is the limp sentiment to restore the vote to those convicted of criminal felonies.

In a front-page article, a Washington Post reporter laboriously wrote: "The issue, long touted by prisoner-rights advocates, is finding support among mainstream civil-rights organizations and political leaders who argue that the crazy quilt of state laws that bar [sic] felons from voting not only constitutes unfair punishment but also has the potential to shut entire communities out of the political process because such a large proportion of their citizens cannot vote. …

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