Restoring Felons’ Voting Rights Gains Momentum

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 23, 2019

The movement to restore voting rights to convicted felons gained steam in recent days as felons filed suit against Minnesota, while a judge in Florida enjoined that state from enforcing a new law requiring felons to pay all restitution, fines, and fees before regaining their right to vote.

Although re-enfranchising felons is supported by some libertarians and conservatives, the push for this political change comes largely from the left. Studies suggest that when felons regain the right to vote they are more likely to register as Democrats than Republicans.

Former President Barack Obama and Democrats have been campaigning for voting reform, including felon re-enfranchisement and, in some places, lowering the voting age from 18 in order to boost turnout and promote their party’s get-out-the-vote efforts.

In Minnesota, four felons who have been released from custody but haven’t yet satisfied all conditions of their respective sentences filed a state-level lawsuit with the legal assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against that state on Oct. 21.

“Plaintiffs have been deemed safe to live in their communities where they raise their children, contribute to Minnesota’s economic, cultural, religious, civic and political life, pay taxes, and bear the consequences of the decisions made by their governments,” the complaint states, according to a Courthouse News Service report.

“Consequently, these citizens live, work, marry, have kids, send their kids to school, play, shop, pay taxes, volunteer, worship, and otherwise participate in Minnesota communities for years while being denied their right to vote.”

In the legal complaint, the plaintiffs assert that upwards of 52,000 Minnesota residents can’t vote because of felony records and that the state’s policy has “disparate impact on indigenous citizens and people of color.”

“Minnesota’s statutory scheme for restoring the voting rights of citizens convicted of a felony and living in their communities cannot be squared with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, due process, and the fundamental right to vote,” the complaint states.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida put a partial hold on the implementation of SB 7066, a statute that makes felons pay outstanding fines, fees, and restitution before regaining eligibility to vote. The law was passed after a state constitutional amendment restored voting rights to most felons. Hinkle was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the measure that requires felons to settle outstanding penal obligations before regaining their right to vote. The law came after a state referendum known as Amendment 4 received about 65 percent support out of nearly 8 million votes cast on Nov. 6, 2018. The state constitutional amendment returned the vote to most felons after completing all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.

The ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other organizations filed suit against the law just hours after DeSantis signed it on June 28.

Hinkle’s Oct. 18 ruling applies only to the 17 plaintiffs in the case, not to the other estimated 1.4 million felons in Florida.

“When a state wrongly prevents an eligible citizen from voting, the harm to the citizen is irreparable,” Hinkle stated. “Each of these plaintiffs have a constitutional right to vote so long as the state’s only reason for denying the vote is failure to pay an amount the plaintiff is genuinely unable to pay.”

Although the left claims felon disenfranchisement laws are racist, in fact, they are race-neutral.

The 14th Amendment gives states the power to abridge citizens’ right to vote “for participation in rebellion, or other crime,” according to a Heritage Foundation backgrounder. As of 2015 there were 48 U.S. states that disenfranchised felons. Most of the states don’t restore voting rights until the terms of probation or parole have been completed.

“The claim that state laws that take away the right of felons to vote are all rooted in racial discrimination is simply historically inaccurate: Even before the Civil War, when many black Americans were slaves and could not vote, most states took away the rights of voters who were convicted of crimes,” Hans von Spakovsky and Roger Clegg wrote for the Heritage Foundation.

The disenfranchisement of criminals is a tradition stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome, the left-wing group Human Rights Watch acknowledges.

In medieval Europe, “infamous” offenders suffered “civil death,” which led to “the deprivation of all rights, confiscation of property, exposure to injury and even to death, since the outlaw could be killed with impunity by anyone.” In England, felons could forfeit their property, lose the ability to inherit or bequeath property, and be unable to take legal actions.

RECOMMENDED