Felons and Voting: What is To Be Done?

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

Since the 2000 presidential election, the debate over felons being given the right to vote has been a hot-button topic among America’s political elite. George Soros and several Left-wing groups have spent an inordinate amount of time and resources seeking to influence national laws to allow for felons of all kind–both violent and non-violent alike–to have their voting rights restored once their sentences are complete.

Certainly, the concepts of “One Man, One Vote” and the notion that “Justice is Blind,” combine to form a potent argument in favor of allowing for felons to vote. After all, if one has served their sentence fully under the law, then one should have their rights restored.

This is not just something that Leftists have argued. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has for years been a staunch advocate of restoring felons’ voting rights.

It quickly becomes an issue of freedom vs. rule of law–which are always in tension in the United States. Americans want to believe that their country is the freest, longest-lasting democratic-republic in the world.

Few, however, are keen on admitting that there are many imbalances here. Besides, everyone wants to note that freedom is essential to our way of life…but so too is the rule of law.

On the matter of voting rights, many Americans have an understandable reverence for the idea (if not the practice) that one person should get one vote–and that vote should count. That is why it is not just the self-interested Soros-types on the Left that have been pushing for restoring felons’ voting rights, but sincere members of the Right, like Senator Paul, as well.

It’s Never About “The People” or Injustice; It’s About Power

In 2014, Virginia passed a state law allowing non-violent felons to regain their right to vote. In April 2016, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe (a lifelong sycophantic Clintonista) issued an executive order granting all felons in Virginia the right to vote. This was done, despite the fact that the federal court placed limits on Governor McAuliffe’s actions in 2014 (and it is not entirely obvious that the Virginia House of Delegates would have voted in favor of opening up voting to all felons in the state).

There was more than mere racial equality on the former Virginia governor’s mind when he signed his executive order opening the votes to 200,000 felons in Virginia. McAuliffe did this to ensure that Virginia’s vital 13 electoral votes ended up in the hands of Hillary Clinton.

Because of McAuliffe’s actions heading into the election of 2016, predictably, the once-conservative bastion of Virginia suddenly voted for Clinton by a hairsbreadth. It also inevitably voted to ensure that the Democratic Party became the majority party in the state–which is why Virginia has become a national headline for more than a year on issues ranging from the Second Amendment to abortion: the government of Virginia does not represent a broad cross-section of Virginia voters any longer. Instead, it represents the higher populated coastal cities (notably Northern Virginia, which is basically a suburb of Washington, D.C.)

The issue of felon voting rights is highly contentious because there are a disproportionate share of minorities who are classified as felons. Of the 6.1 million Americans considered to be felons, an estimated 2.2 million African-Americans are disenfranchised from voting. Charges of racism abound and it is hard to deny that the present dynamic certainly appears racist.

This is especially so, when one considers the unfortunate fact that being deemed a felon is not necessarily a hard thing to do in the United States today. Most people who fall into this category are non-violent offenders; many are brought in on drug charges–notably marijuana–and any rational person judging the situation would understand that many (if not most) should not have their lives ruined and their votes denied because of such an insignificant infraction.

Just look at the rate of drug offenders who have their lives ruined by one mistake. As former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner recently argued, “We have literally filled up our jails with people for minor drug possession.” He’s right.

Of course, I personally oppose the legalization of marijuana and disagree with those who would advocate for legalization of narcotics. At the same time, though, I fully concede that it’s strange that America imprisons so many of its young minorities for engaging in the same practices that many wealthier, white people do–particularly those in powerful positions (or that we do this when our entire Pop Culture and media is one of implicit encouragement for wanton drug abuse). It is hard not to conclude that race and class are a major factor in determining which felon should have their voting rights restored.

However, the charge that laws intending to curb or reduce the voting power of felons are inherently racist are inappropriate. For such charges to be true, one must prove that the intentions of the laws are racist. And, they are not.

After all, the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution–the amendment that, along with the thirteenth and fifteenth amendments, helped to ensure the freedom of slaves following the Civil War–explicitly allows for individual states to determine when and how people can vote in their states.

One cannot be denied the right to vote explicitly on the basis of race, gender, etc. But, a citizen can have their voting rights curbed by a state law if they are felons. And, under the Fourteenth Amendment, state governments determine how and when felons’ rights shall be restored after they have successfully completed their sentences.

Instead, the perceived racial bias is likely incidental to the law rather than the point of those laws.

There is much conflation occurring in the debate, when the Left argues that the same caveat in the Fourteenth Amendment used by people like me today was the same one used to justify Jim Crow laws in the American South. Back then, the laws were being abused to deny people their right to vote explicitly on the basis of race. There was no doubt about that.

Today, the issue is not one of denying someone the right to vote based on race. It is a matter of who determines the laws of a state: the state government or a distant federal government?

And, we can certainly discuss the need to make sentencing guidelines more sensible or the need to prevent overzealous prosecutors from ruining innocent Americans’ lives (such as they do). We can also concede that those who want to end for-profit prisons, such as the gonzo socialist-populist, Bernie Sanders, are generally correct.

But, all of these arguments are ancillary to the larger point: do states have a right to legislate how their individual elections will take place?

The U.S. Constitution says “yes.” Unless it is proven that the intent of the laws denying felons their right to vote are racist, a state can mandate that voting rights for felons be curbed. This is a constitutional rather than a racial issue.

We all know how the Left will respond to that: they don’t care about the U.S. Constitution.

To the Left, the Constitution is a living and breathing document; what they derisively refer to as a “charter of negative liberties.” It is fungible and can be ignored or cultivated at a moment’s notice, so long as it furthers their cause (which is greater power being aggregated into the managerial class who comprise the central government).

But, the diffusion of power is the only way that a transcontinental superstate of more than 320 million people can maintain its cohesion. The Constitution’s framers intended for power to be handed over to state and local governments whenever possible.

Our Founders did not want an all-expansive central government formulating one-size-fits-all laws for the whole land–particularly on something as important and sensitive to Americans as the right to vote.

Some communities in certain states may find felons voting to be an acceptable action.

States like Maine and Vermont clearly think this way, as these states allow for felons currently serving in prison to vote. It works for them.

Others, such as Kentucky, do not believe this is the best thing for their local community.

What’s more, some states, like my home state of Florida, have voted to restore felons’ rights–only after those felons have completed the full terms of their sentences (which include paying back all court and legal fees).

The Florida Dilemma

Right now, Florida’s state government is undergoing a massive legal battle with George Soros’ “Sentence Reform Project” over the Florida Senate Bill 7066, which is itself an amendment to the historic 2018 Amendment 4 vote.

Amendment 4 was celebrated because it gave 1.4 million felons in Florida that right to vote–after they completed the full terms of their sentences. Amendment 4 was met with much opposition from the Republicans who controlled Florida, realizing that it could fundamentally alter the delicate balance-of-power in the state’s dynamic politics.

To assuage the Right’s concerns, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 7066, which embraced the essence of Amendment 4 but explicitly required felons to be given their voting rights only after they served their sentence and after all court fees, fines, and restitution to victims are paid back.

Of course, the fees alone are exorbitant for most felons. Some estimates claim that 80 percent of felons are delinquent in making their restitutions even after they complete their sentence.

Thus, the constitutional challenge in the U.S. 11th Court of Appeals in Atlanta is predicated on this fact: how can the State of Florida vote to re-enfranchise a group of voters (felons) and then disenfranchise at least part of them again by requiring that those felons make financial restitution for the costs associated with their sentencing–knowing full well that most would be unable to ever repay those fees (and therefore be denied the vote)?

The Left is pinning their hopes on this discrepancy in the Florida law. And, the jurists on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals were particularly inquisitive about the disparities in Florida S.B. 7066.

One jurist properly noted that the potential exists for creating a two-tiered justice system.

Courtesy of Business Insider.

For example, two felons who committed the same crime and were given the same sentence could potentially be treated differently by the law based on whether they could pay for the sentencing or not. That’s a valid concern. The Left is hoping that the court rules that S.B. 7066 is unconstitutional, so that they can force the legislature to accept their interpretation of Amendment 4.

But, even the University of Florida law professor who helped write S.B. 7066 told the court that the language of Amendment 4 included terms of repayment.

Thus, the Left’s claim that 65 percent of Floridians who voted for Amendment 4 in 2018 did not intend for felons to have to make financial restitutions for the costs of their sentencing is absurd. Senate Bill 7066 simply restated what the ballot initiative presented to voters and placed it into state law.

Removing the financial aspect of S.B. 7066 would undoubtedly benefit the Democratic Party (which is why Soros has been funding and supporting the movement for years). Florida is a vital swing state in national elections. The Sunshine State accounts for 27 percent of the country’s disenfranchised felon population.

Two researchers who are members of the George Soros-funded operation, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, wrote in 2002 that:

Democratic candidates would have received about 7 out of every 10 votes cast by the felons and ex-felons in 14 of the last 15 US Senate election years [and] seven Senate races out of more than 400 might have been flipped from 1970 to 1998.

Of course, on the flip side, there is the ever-present issue of turnout. Even in states where felons can vote, their turnout is well below what it usually is projected at being. Plus, in the case of Florida 2000, one researcher determined that if felons could have voted then, a slight majority would have “leaned Bush” (though I doubt this).

Fact is, the issue in Florida is not about racial equality or even the matter of returning Americans with criminal records who’ve served their sentences back to full citizenship. Instead, the move by George Soros and the Left to overturn the Florida legislature’s amendment is nothing more than a cynical ploy to ensure that a Democratic majority takes over in Florida.

After all, Florida possesses 29 electoral votes, and it is a winner-take-all state. So, whoever wins the Florida election in 2020 gets all 29 electoral votes (some states make candidates split their electoral votes).

As I wrote three years ago at American Greatness, demographic changes to the United States are not only coming from immigration (either legal or illegal). They are coming from internal migration patterns. Liberals feeling the squeeze of high taxes and onerous costs-of-living in their Blue States are fleeing to traditional Red States in droves.

They are bringing their Blue State voting patterns with them to these once-bucolic, affordable Red States…and converting those states into the very same high-tax, high-cost-of-living dystopias they fled (except these poison pill migrants are now sitting atop the socio-economic pile in their new states).

Florida, with its low taxes and constant sunshine, is not only the prime destination for retiring Baby Boomers from the Blue States, but it is also becoming a bastion for young people fleeing places like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and so many other northern Blue States. Since 2008, the state has slid from a decisively Red State to a malleable purple state.

As internal migration continues unabated, coupled with the potential of allowing for felons to vote in the state, the odds are high that very soon Florida might become a Blue State–fundamentally altering the electoral math every four years.

Those are the real reasons that George Soros and his “Sentencing Project” are so invested in changing voting laws for felons. If, as the jurists of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta seem understandably concerned about, the Left was concerned about equality, they would be encouraging the Florida legislature to change their amendment to make it possible for felons with onerous sentencing fees to discharge that debt over time.

The Left would not be focused on overturning what is, essentially, a fair requirement (after all, who will pay back those fees if not the perpetrators of the crimes?) in a court of law.

That’s how you know this is not about equality or civil rights. This is about power.

Changes Can Be Made at the State Level, Not From Above

We mustn’t allow for the Leftist ideologues intent on imposing unconstitutional centralization upon this country to cloud the issue. It comes down to a question of legal intent.

Are the laws restricting felon voting racist? I do not think that they are.

If the intention of Florida’s S.B. 7066 is not racist or bigoted, then the remedy is not to undo the will of the people or the legislature with a federal court ruling.

Instead, as has been suggested even by some of the bill’s proponents in the state legislature, changes should be made to ensure that felons who cannot make financial restitution out-of-pocket upon their release will be able to make up for it another way. By using the federal courts as they are, the Left is not interested in balancing against racial bias or injustice perpetrated upon felons.

There are real constitutional arguments in favor of allowing states to determine their own best voting practices and standards. The Left is simply trying to flip a critical electoral state so that they can continue pushing their radical national political agenda.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

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