Voting Rights for Felons

While I was writing my “What I Think Maryland Thinks” feature — in which I attempted to predict the outcome of the Baltimore Sun’s What Maryland Thinks online poll — I noticed some logistical issues. For example, each post had two topics — the outcome of the previous day’s prediction and the prediction for the following day. My thought was to break these into two posts, one for each prediction.

This week, real life got in the way and I wound up skipping two days of polls. Now, my plan is to just comment on the topic at hand each day.

Yesterday’s question in the What Maryland Thinks poll:

Should Gov. Larry Hogan sign a bill granting full voting rights to felons out on parole?

Yes 23%
No 73%
Not Sure 4%

Predictably (heh), participants in the online poll overwhelmingly want to deny felons voting rights. This is profoundly undemocratic. Convicted felons in Maryland must currently wait until they have completed parole and/or probation before being re-enfranchised. A bill is on Gov. Hogan’s desk awaiting his signature that would restore the right to vote immediately after release from prison.

I am sure that many of the people who voted no in the poll would just as soon have felons lose the right to vote permanently following conviction. This seems sensible to them since felons have chosen to live outside of decent society and therefore have forfeited the right to shape that society. These are people for whom the justice system is fair and, really, too mindful of the rights of the accused. They assume that convictions are valid and that the felon is responsible for what has happened. And, probably, they are generally correct.

I have a rather radical take on this topic. I would have convicted felons be able to vote while imprisoned. The United States has the highest incarceration rate — by far — in the world (707 inmates per 100,000 residents). In this era of mass incarceration, it is easy to see how disenfranchisement could be used to squash the voting power of segments of the population that don’t vote correctly (according to the political class). There are already a variety of attempts to put obstacles between voters and the ballot box in places where those voters are likely to vote for the wrong candidates. Prison disenfranchisement is a more long term strategy but I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that it would never be employed.

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