Monday, June 4, 2007

M&Ms for dinner?

Jessica McBride can't say enough good things about the Sunday column by State GOP Chair Reince Priebus on why felons should not be allowed to vote in Wisconsin. She calls it a "great piece" and sends readers his way.

This Priebus argument (if you can call it that) was especially noteworthy, in McBride's eyes:
So why on Earth would we trust felons still serving a sentence to take part in our democratic process - to make important decisions that influence how law-abiding citizens live their lives? It's akin to allowing your 2-year-old to choose the dinner meal. If that happened, surely M&Ms and cookies would be on the menu every night.
And if felons could vote -- which they can in some states -- what would be on the menu? Get out of jail free cards?

Something far worse than that, McBride suggests: Felons would vote for Democrats! She links to a story saying Al Gore would have won the 2000 presidential election if felons had been allowed to vote. (He did win, actually, even without their votes, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Electoral College.)
The study posits that since racial minorities and the poor – groups that tend to vote for Democrats– make up a disproportionate number of felons, a hypothetical felon voting bloc would be so overwhelmingly Democratic it could swing national and statewide elections.

74 percent of felons would have voted Democratic in presidential and U.S. Senate elections dating back to 1972...
The other 26 per cent, presumably, are white collar criminals who simply embezzled or ripped off stockholders, or suburban Republicans who ran afoul of the law, like Scott Jensen, and who don't like M&Ms for dinner.

(But think of the possibilities if the GOP had to compete for the felon vote. Jensen could have headed Felons for Bucher, and perhaps advised Bucher against running a Willie Horton-style campaign for attorney general.)

But when you come right down to it, it's the same reason the Wisconsin Republican Party now headed by Priebus wants to make it more and more difficult for minorities and the poor to vote, even if they are law-abiding citizens. They are more likely to be Democratic voters. Even the so-called study got that right.

McBride also likes this argument:
The argument that we shouldn't disenfrancise felons on paper ignores the 14th Amendment, by the way, which specifically states that people can lose the right to vote for participation in rebellion, or other crime.
Priebus puts it this way:
The Supreme Court has long concluded that the 14th Amendment allows states to deny voting rights to these felons because their past acts have proved them unworthy of voting.
It's true that states have the ability to deny felons the right to vote. But the 50 states handle the issue in many different ways, Project Vote reports. In Maine and Vermont, felons don't lose their right to vote. In 13 more states (and DC), felons can vote once they have served their time. In 5 more stations, probationers can vote. In 19 states, including Wisconsin, rights are restored after completion of parole and probation. And in 11 states, some or all felons can lose their voting rights permanently.

It is quite a leap to say that because states can bar felons from voting that Wisconsin should be among the toughest. States also have the legal ability to impose the death penalty, but Wisconsin hasn't had it since 1853 -- not that Republicans haven't tried and failed to pass the death penalty in Wisconsin.

Perhaps it's time for Priebus's party to try a new argument -- that executing felons would get them off the voter rolls for good, and eliminate the possibility that they might vote illegally.

That argument is more cogent than the threat of M&Ms for dinner.

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