Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Voting Rights for Ex-Felons?

Kemp Says Ex-Felons Should Be Able to Vote

WASHINGTON - Jack Kemp, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and HUD secretary, urged Congress on Tuesday to require states to restore voting rights for felons once they complete their sentences.

Kemp, who was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996, made the recommendation during the first in a series of hearings about the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits literacy tests, poll taxes and other infringements on minority voting.

Some key provisions of the 40-year-old law expire in 2007. One requires areas with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their election laws.

Congress is expected to extend that provision for 25 years, but the
House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution is trying to determine whether the law should be tweaked.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., stirred the lone moment of dissent among witnesses with his suggestion that Congress should amend the act to guarantee voting rights for ex-felons.

"It's important, if we're going to call ourselves a democracy, that everybody more or less have the right to vote," Nadler said.

Kemp quickly endorsed the idea, pointing out that minorities are disproportionately charged with felonies.

"My answer is unambiguously yes," said Kemp, a former congressman from New York, one of a handful of states that restores voting rights to criminals once they complete their prison term or probation. "It is a restriction that needs to be modified."

Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, a member of a national commission on the Voting Rights Act, disagreed. He said states should be able to set their own requirements and argued that the number of felons isn't high enough to influence elections.

Besides the section requiring federal clearance for some states and localities to change their voting laws, two other key provisions are expiring in 2007. One requires foreign language assistance at the polls, and another allows for federal election observers to be used to deter intimidation of minority voters.

This article caught my eye for two reasons: 1) A Republican, Jack Kemp, taking a traditional liberal stance and advocating that the voting rights for ex-felons needs to be modified. I have always advocated that once a felon has been released from the penal system that he/she should get their voting rights reinstated within 60 days of completion of parole. Ex-felons, who have been lucky to return to society and become responsible citizens should have the right to vote. If they have a job, they should be able to vote on where their tax money goes, right? Upon the restortation of their voting rights they should have the right to participate in the electoral process including running for office and donating money to candidates. Getting your voting rights reinstated should be an incentive to not return to prision. Many ex-felons who are not able to vote feel that they are second or third class citizens.

2) The other reason this article caught my eye was because as a political science major and an African-American, we have not fully utilized efforts to ensure everyone participates in the electoral process. One out of six Blacks are denied the right to vote because they have a felony record. I think it's senseless to deny any rights to anyone who commits a non-violent drug offense. You can be a CEO of a company who mismanaged your employee pension, serve maybe a year in Club Fed and once you get out, your voting rights are instantly reinstated? Where is the justice?

Both the Republicans and Libertarians have done a rotten job addressing these social problems to the American public. There is a reason why there are more blacks within the Democratic party than the LP or Republican Party: They talk about these issues to recruit blacks into their party. Education is the key to making sure things happen.