Monday, March 12, 2007

Charlie Crist does the right thing, and for the right reason

Recently elected Governor Charlie Crist (R-Florida) has announced that he will restore voting rights to convicted felons who have paid their debt (meaning they have completed all sentencing including probation, paid any restitution and otherwise steered clear of the criminal justice system.)

TALLAHASSEE, FL (AP) -- Governor Charlie Crist says he will continue working to change the rules so that felons will have their voting rights automatically restored once they have paid their debt to society.This is one of the most revolutionary and far reaching proposals made by a governor in years. The removal of voting rights for ex-felons, those who have served their time and returned to society, is a direct descendent of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution. This document proudly listed a variety of ways Post Reconstruction whites would remove all political power form black citizens.

Crist announced that this campaign promise was a top reform priority.

This makes a lot of sense. Felons face, in addition to hurdles like difficulty getting a job and a home with a felony conviction on their record, a continuing stream of sanctions by society even when they have served their sentence and want to get on with their lives. Some of the sanctions make sense (for example denying the right to buy a gun to someone who has been convicted of a violent crime, because of the increased risk that they may use it in another crime). Sex offender registries make a lot of sense. Other sanctions do not. For example, restricting gun sales to non-violent criminals (I'm not sure that someone who has been convicted of embezzlement or selling marijuana is such a threat if they have a gun.) And chief among those which make no sense is preventing felons from voting. In Florida, because of prior felony convictions, 600,000 felons cannot vote, including over 31% of the state's adult African-American population (keep in mind that even being caught with any kind of drug paraphernalia can be considered a felony in many states.)

Further, even Crist's proposal will continue to deny voting to a few criminals:

the Times reported that there would be exclusions for those convicted of murder, rape, or major drug trafficking.

And I agree with that, for the most part. Murder, while it may result in less than a life sentence, is different from all other crimes in that there is no hope at all for the victim to recover. So a lifetime sanction may make sense. Rapists are generally required to register as sex offenders, so therefore they never do leave the criminal justice system completely-- so as the law is written they would not ever qualify. The most controversial provision has to do with drug trafficking. To me, the word 'major' suggests very large quantities of drugs, usually as part of a smuggling ring. But I don't know if that is the definition according to the proposal.

In fact, it seems Gov. Crist is doing it for the right reason. He is already taking heat for it in Florida. Further, there is no data on how felons intend to vote (this group has never been polled, for obvious reasons.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting move by Crist. It's a judgement call whether felons can vote or not, but I'd go along with restoring voting rights to felons after their sentences (and paroles, if applicable) are completed. I'm not sure I'd put the caveats of excluding certain crimes from this restoration of voting rights that you support.

Your link makes an egregious factual error, however, in stating that 14 states deny voting rights to people who are merely *charged* with committing a felony. That is a patently absurd statement and flies in the face of the "innocent until proven guilty" tradition of our society (and probably the US Constitution).