PRO: "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."
Columnist and Editorial Writer at the Chicago Tribune
"Too Many Ex-Convicts Aren't Able to Vote," StarTribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul
Aug. 15, 2006
CON: "We don't let children vote, for instance, or noncitizens, or the mentally incompetent. Why? Because we don't trust them and their judgment...
So the question is, do criminals belong in that category? And I think the answer is clearly yes. People who commit serious crimes have shown that they are not trustworthy."
Roger Clegg, JD
President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity
Debate held by the Legal Affairs Debate Club
Nov. 1, 2004
PRO: "[R]acial minorities are overrepresented in the felon population based upon factors that cannot be explained by non-racial reasons...
Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the discriminatory impact of Washington's felon disenfranchisement is attributable to racial discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system."
Farrakhan v. Gregoire(229KB)
United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
Jan. 5, 2010
CON: "The frequently heard charge is that disenfranchising felons is racist because the felon population is disproportionately black. But the mere fact that blacks make up a lopsided percentage of the nation's prison population doesn't prove that racism is to blame.
Is the mostly male population of the prisons evidence of reverse sexism? Of course not: men commit the vast majority of serious crimes - a fact no one would dispute - and that's why there are lots more of them than women behind bars.
Regrettably, blacks also commit a disproportionate number of felonies, as victim surveys show. In any case, a felon either deserves his punishment or not, whatever his race. If he does, it may also be that he deserves disenfranchisement. His race, in both cases, is irrelevant."
Edward Feser, PhD
Instructor at Pasadena City College
"Should Felons Vote?," City Journal
PRO: "There are three potential constitutional bases for Congress's authority to enfranchise non-incarcerated offenders for federal elections :
- Congress's supervisory power over federal elections, rooted in Article 1, Sec. 4;
- Congress's enforcement power under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, and
- Congress's enforcement power under Section Two of the Fifteenth Amendment."
Gillian E. Metzger, JD
Professor of Law at Columbia University Law School
Memorandum to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution,
Oct. 20, 1999
CON: "Most prominently, the 14th Amendment makes felon voting a state prerogative, not a federal one...
The senators' bill [Count Every Vote Act of 2005], by contrast, tosses out the Constitution and declares in no uncertain terms that felon voting should be a federal issue...
If voters choose to change state laws regarding felons and voting, it's their prerogative. Federalism allows for such state-level experimentation, and it's at the state level where the consequences of new felon-voting laws will best be judged. Congress should let the process play itself out, as the Constitution allows it to."
"Felons and Democratic Politicking,"
Mar. 8, 2005
PRO: "It is plain to anyone reading the Voting Rights Act that it applies to all 'voting qualification[s].' And it is equally plain that [New York Election Law] § 5-106 [which denies the vote to incarcerated felons and felons on parole] disqualifies a group of people from voting. These two propositions should constitute the entirety of our analysis. Section 2 of the Act by its unambiguous terms subjects felony disenfranchisement and all other voting qualifications to its coverage.
The duty of a judge is to follow the law, not to question its plain terms. I do not believe that Congress wishes us to disregard the plain language of any statute or to invent exceptions to the statutes it has created. The majority's 'wealth of persuasive evidence' that Congress intended felony disenfranchisement laws to be immune from scrutiny... includes not a single legislator actually saying so. But even if Congress had doubts about the wisdom of subjecting felony disenfranchisement laws to the results test of § 2, I trust that Congress would prefer to make any needed changes itself, rather than have courts do so for it."
CON: "The Court of Appeals (José A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge) concludes that the Voting Rights Act must be construed to not encompass prisoner disenfranchisement provisions such as that of New York because (a) Congress did not intend the Voting Rights Act to cover such provisions and (b) Congress made no clear statement indicating an intent to modify the federal balance by applying the Voting Rights Act to these provisions...
[T]here are persuasive reasons to believe that Congress did not intend to include felon disenfranchisement provisions within the coverage of the Voting Rights Act, and we must therefore look beyond the plain text of the statute in construing the reach of its provisions...
We therefore conclude that [The Voting Rights Act] was not intended to - and thus does not - encompass felon disenfranchisement provisions."
Hayden v. Pataki (404 KB) 8-5 decision
United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
May 4, 2006
PRO: "The Eighth Amendment 'succinctly prohibits 'excessive' sanctions,' and demands that 'punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense'... Thus, the states that continue to exclude all felons permanently are outliers, both within the United States and in the world."
Pamela S. Karlan, JD
Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford University
"Convictions and Doubts: Retribution, Representation, and the Debate over Felon Disenfranchisement," Stanford Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 5,
CON: "Unlike any other voting qualification, felon disenfranchisement laws are explicitly endorsed by the text of the Fourteenth Amendment.... They are presumptively constitutional. Only a narrow subset of them - those enacted with an invidious, racially discriminatory purpose - is unconstitutional."
Alex Kozinski, JD
Circuit Judge, U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Dissent(97 KB) in Farrakhan v. State of Washington Feb. 24, 2006
PRO: "[T]he argument that allowing prisoners to vote would be costly and impractical is ethically unjustifiable. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights.
Denying prisoners the right to vote is likely to undermine respect for the rule of law... Allowing prisoners to vote, by contrast, may strengthen their social ties and commitment to the common good, thus promoting legally responsible participation in civil society."
Jeff Manza, PhD
Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University Christopher Uggen, PhD
Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy,
CON: "[P]rison is meant to be a punishment. A custodial sentence has always resulted in loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights for the duration of a prisoner's sentence. Why change that?...
The main point of a prison sentence is to show the offender and society as a whole that criminal behaviour results in loss of freedom and most of the rights that freedom offers."
Jonathan Aitken, JD
Member of British Parliament and a convicted felon
"Prisoners Don't Care About Their Right to Vote," UK Telegraph,
Dec. 15, 2006
PRO: "People should not be barred from voting solely because they are unable to pay back their fines, fees and interest. If we truly want people convicted of felonies to re-engage with society, become rehabilitated, and feel a part of a broader community (thus creating incentives not to recidivate) then our State should do everything possible to re-incorporate these individuals into mainstream society. In terms of being a just and even handed society, it is not fair if thousands of people are unable to re-gain their voting rights because they are poor... People who are wealthy or have access to money are able to repay their financial debts and poor people (the vast majority of people who have felony convictions) are not. This is an unjust system."
Alexes Harris, PhD
Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington
Email to ProCon.org,
Jan. 13, 2010
CON: "We believe a rational basis does exist for the Legislature to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed their entire court-ordered sentences, including payment of criminal penalties, victim's restitution, and legal fees, rather than separating out various sentencing aspects."
Rob McKenna, JD
Attorney General of the State of Washington Sam Reed
Washington Secretary of State
"State to Appeal Ruling Granting Voting Rights
to Felons Who Owe Fines," Seattle Times
Mar. 29, 2006
PRO: "Despite its initial attractiveness, the use of social contract theory to defend felon disenfranchisement is in fact specious. Under a regime of disenfranchisement, an individual who breaches the social contract continues to be bound by the terms of the contract even after being stripped of the ability to take part in political decisions. However, contract doctrine does not allow an injured party to force the breacher to perform its contractual duties without the injured party performing its own. The contract can be terminated or the injured party can accept the performance, but the injured party cannot simply pick and choose which terms will remain and which will not...
Social contract theory and the objectives of punishment fail to provide a satisfactory explanation for the denial of one of the most fundamental rights to millions of citizens."
Jason D. Schall, JD
Associate with Steptoe & Johnson LLP
"The Consistency of Felon Disenfranchisement with Citizenship Theory,"
CON: "As a policy justification, Locke's social contract theory has withstood the test of time; it served a rationale for the enactment of felon disenfranchisement laws in the past, and remains a compelling argument today.
When someone commits a crime, he commits it not just against the victim, but against our entire society. Protests that time served is enough, and that society should prioritize the rehabilitation and reintegration of felons should fall on deaf ears.
Opponents of disenfranchisement claim that the inability to vote stymies felons' 'remittance into a law-abiding society.' Yet they neglect to explain why the tonic of voting did not curtail felons from committing crimes initially."
George Brooks, JD
"Felon Disenfranchisement: Law, History, Policy, and Politics," Fordham Urban Law Journal
PRO: "We know for a fact that nonunion, blue-collar, Caucasian men vote very disproportionately Republican, and when you look at the felon population in the state of Washington, they are overwhelmingly nonunion, blue-collar, male Caucasians."
Former Washington State Democratic Party Chairman
"Democrats Flag 743 Votes They Say Felons Cast," Seattle Times
May 7, 2005
CON: "Sentimentalism and cold calculation combine to make felons' voting attractive to liberals. They know that criminals often come from disadvantaging circumstances and think such circumstances are the 'root causes' of criminality. As for the calculation, it is indelicate to say but indisputably true: most felons - not all; not those, for example, from Enron's executive suites - are Democrats. Or at least were they to vote, most would vote Democratic."
George F. Will, PhD
Contributing Editor at Newsweek
"Give the Ballot to Felons?," Newsweek Mar. 13, 2005