NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Failing To Manage Their Own Lives, Should Felons Help Shape Policy?

December 7, 1999

The debate over giving convicted felons the privilege of voting is heating up again. Just last week, for example, a subcommittee of the Virginia state legislature asked its staff to draft a constitutional amendment that would allow state courts to restore the vote to felons.

  • A total of 32 states prohibit convicts on parole from voting -- while 29 states bar those on probation from voting.
  • In 14 states, felons are denied the vote for life unless they receive some form of clemency.
  • After Massachusetts prisoners began organizing a political action committee, the state's governor backed repeal of voting privileges for prisons.
  • Political observers report that moderate legislators are reluctant to oppose enfranchising felons for fear of appearing racist.

Indeed, case studies show that 13 percent of black men are ineligible to vote. But policy analysts say the real problem is not race, but crime.

"It makes no sense," says Francis Marini, GOP leader of the Massachusetts state house. "We incarcerate people and we take away their right to run their own lives and leave them with the ability to influence how we run our own lives?"

Source: Editorial, "Jailhouse Vote," Wall Street Journal, December 7, 1999.


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