Should Felons Govern the Law-Abiding?
Should people still serving a sentence for felony crimes be electing our judges, sheriffs, prosecutors and lawmakers? The American Civil Liberties Union thinks so and aims to circumvent Minnesota’s law and Constitution with a lawsuit filed last month.
The ACLU is asking the court to grant voting rights to violent, corrupt or potentially dangerous criminals who are still serving time on parole or probation.
Article VII of Minnesota’s Constitution is explicit that people convicted of felonies are not to be entitled or permitted to vote in any election in the state. It states in part, “The following persons shall not be entitled or permitted to vote at any election in the state… a person who has been convicted of treason or felony, unless restored to civil rights; a person under guardianship, or a person who is insane or not mentally competent.” The framers had good reasons for this.
Felons are the most anti-social of all criminals. Their crimes are of the worst, most harmful and offensive nature. Murder, rape, robbery, fraud and conspiracy are examples of felony crimes. People who have demonstrated such gross disregard for the law, society and government should not be allowed to participate. They are outlaws, living outside the law and thus should not be allowed a hand in creating the laws that the law-abiding must live under. A sane and ethical government requires a sane and ethical electorate.
Votes don’t just decide the president and legislators. Judges, county prosecutors and sheriffs are elected positions. It is in the felon’s interest to elect lenient judges and incompetent or corrupt prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Candidates for sheriff should not be in a position to try to solicit the votes of felons who are still under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
Deprivation of rights is the primary means of punishing and deterring crime in the United States. There is nothing unusual about depriving convicted felons of civil rights, not the least of which being their very freedom! Felons on probation are prohibited from carrying a firearm, associating with certain people, entering certain establishments, may be subject to curfews and prohibitions of drug and alcohol use in addition to being prohibited from voting, until they have demonstrated their rehabilitation by successful completion of their sentence. At that point, they are considered to have “paid their debt to society” and are welcomed back into the civic process and their rights are restored. Many convicted felons never serve a day in jail; the deprivation of rights while on probation is the entirety of their punishment – should felons be held accountable for their crimes at all?
A renewed push to put ballots into felons’ hands is also expected at the legislature when it reconvenes this February. Even if the legislature determined that restoring voting rights to convicted felons prior to the completion of their sentence was desirable, it would likely require an amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution – or a gross perversion of it by the Minnesota Supreme Court, should the ACLU’s lawsuit prevail and inevitably move up the appeals ladder.
Those responsible for defending Minnesota’s constitutional and statutory prohibitions against supervised felons voting aren’t inclined to put up a robust case. Both Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison have long been on the record as favoring voting rights for felons.
They have already waived the simplest defense strategy and appear perfectly willing to capitulate to the ACLU. Therefore, the Minnesota Voters Alliance has stepped in to intervene in defense of Minnesota’s laws. The MVA has petitioned Ramsey County District Court to allow the MVA to be an “intervenor defendant” in the case for the primary purpose of asserting to the court the defense which the State has waived, namely, that the Minnesota Constitution does not provide the ACLU with a course of action to sue the government in this case.
Minnesota is already a forgiving state that leaves open the possibility of redemption. Convicted felons already have a “second chance.” They are restored to their rights immediately upon successful completion of their sentence, including supervised release or probation. Our state’s probation system offers felons a chance to demonstrate their rehabilitation and integration into society, before We the People trust them with the power to influence the lives of law-abiding citizens by voting.
Once felons have proved to society that they are ready to reintegrate by successful completion of probation, they can vote again. That’s current law and the mandate of the Minnesota Constitution. It may not be easy, or quick, but it’s just.
Released but supervised felons who demand an immediate restoration of their rights might have first considered the rights of others that they violated by their anti-social crimes. Probation provides an opportunity to ponder that while offering a guaranteed chance at redemption in Minnesota that many states do not even contemplate. About half of the states deny convicted felons the right to vote in perpetuity, unless a court is successfully petitioned to restore that right.
Wise government requires a wise electorate. Adding convicted felons that the courts still don’t trust with other basic civil liberties to the voting pool can only reduce our collective wisdom as felons have spectacularly demonstrated a deficit in good decision making by robbing that liquor store, stealing that car or raping their girlfriend’s 4-year old twins and infecting them with gonorrhea (yes, that felony happened).
Minnesotans should not accept governance by outlaws. It runs counter to the interests of society to expand the influence of criminals. Do we want school boards elected by child molesters or officers of the court pandering for the votes of gangsters? Are these the great minds we want breaking the ties in Minnesota’s close elections?
Only the Minnesota Voters Alliance now stands in the way. Please make a generous contribution to support the work of the MVA, today.