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Strengthen, don't weaken, laws against felons voting

Contrary to the sentiments of a state judge, if anything Louisiana needs to make more stringent its jurisprudence addressing the ability of felons to vote.

Last week, 19th District Court Judge Tim Kelley reluctantly upheld a state law that prohibits felons from registering to vote so long as, according to Art. I Sec. 10 of the Constitution, they remain “under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony.” The subsequent law clarified this to include people under probation and on parole, as technically they may return to prison if they violate any conditions attached to these.

Kelley reaffirmed, yet expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs challenging the law who called it unfair. But, in fact, the law serves a vital purpose as both a deterrent to crime and a means to improve the quality of decision-making in a democracy.

Louisiana’s position mirrors that of the majority of states. About half as many hold to what the case’s plaintiffs desired, restoration of the right to vote after leaving incarceration. Two states allow felons to vote even while in prison. The remaining nine require some action, such as from a governor or court, to restore voting rights even after completion of the entire sentence.

Louisiana should strive to become the tenth such state. Stripping people of voting rights while serving a sentence as part of the penalty adds another factor discouraging people from committing crime. While very few individuals, when contemplating whether they should engage in criminal behavior, would consider jeopardy of their right to vote as something relevant or at risk regarding their choices, every bit helps in making people think crime doesn’t pay. Even if just one rare individual abjured from attempting crime as a result, such laws pay off.

Consider as well how the quality of governance improves by disallowing felons the right to vote. In committing a felony, a person has declared war on the rest of society, placing himself above all others through claiming greater rights and privileges. Why should society trust such a person in trying to govern for the benefit of all, or believe that such a person has adequate judgment to make wise governance decisions?

Consequently, automatic restoration of voting rights after sentence completion does not ameliorate these undesirable aspects, for some who regain voting rights still will harbor the same inferior attitude that they reside above the law. This calls for some kind of administrative review to determine whether an ex-convict has shed this delusion, regardless of whether having finished a sentence.

Thus, Louisiana needs to incorporate this element to its voting rights philosophy. A procedure akin to the gubernatorial pardon process could require anybody, in or out of prison, who ever committed a felony to petition the governor for restoration of voting rights. Much like a pardon, if presenting evidence of sufficient character reformation, a felon could regain voting rights with the assent of the governor, not automatically.

Elements wanting Louisiana to relax its standard likely do so for political reasons – even as people with felony records vote at much lower levels than the population as a whole, given the disproportionate incidence of blacks among felons and in their voting for Democrats, leftist interests believe they can harvest disproportionately more votes for their favored candidates by taking this step backwards. However, the superior crime deterrence and governance that would result from toughening the standard compels for amending the Constitution in that direction.

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