Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe recently signed an executive order restoring voting rights to ex-offenders.
The governor’s executive order would restore voting rights to convicted felons once they are no longer in prison, on parole or on probation. Previously, ex-offenders were banned from voting for life.
Republicans believe the governor has partisan motives.
“The singular purpose of Terry McAuliffe’s governorship is to elect Hillary Clinton president of the United States,” said House Speaker William J. Howell. The idea here is that most ex-offenders in the state are Black and poor who are more likely to vote Democrat.
The governor said he issued the issue for humane reasons.
“I want you back in society,” he said of ex-convicts. “I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.”
There is no way of knowing how much politics was involved in the governor’s decision.
We do know that politics is involved in recent GOP efforts in passing restrictive voting laws because Republican officials have said publicly that the measures would help Republicans get elected.
We also know that the ban has a disproportionate effect on Blacks and Latinos according to former Attorney General Eric H. Holder.
Holder says, “In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books. And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore — it is also too unjust to tolerate...
And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable. Throughout America, 2.2 million Black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws. In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five.”
Regardless of the motive behind the decision, the governor’s executive order makes sense.
What would be the purpose of continuing to ban ex-offenders for life from voting other than to keep them ostracized and disenfranchised?
Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman makes the point that if we think ex-offenders can’t be allowed to vote then why are they released to society.
“We let ex-convicts marry, reproduce, buy beer, own property and drive. They don’t lose their freedom of religion, their right against self-incrimination or their right not to have soldiers quartered in their homes in time of war. But in many places, the assumption is that they can’t be trusted to help choose our leaders... If we thought criminals could never be reformed, we wouldn’t let them out of prison in the first place.”
All states should follow Virginia’s lead. Restoring voting rights to ex-offenders who have served their time and are not on probation or parole should help them increase their social ties and complete the transition to full civic-minded citizens who are now fully integrated into society.