With the Republican primaries well underway and a general election in November, a lot of attention focuses on voters.
But a recent news article drew my attention to who does not get to vote, more specifically, the voting rights extended to convicted felons.
Lawmakers in four states — including Kentucky, Iowa, Virginia and Florida — currently face legislation dealing with voting rights for convicted felons. In those states now, felons are “permanently disenfranchised” from voting. But throughout the U.S., state laws regarding voting rights for felons vary widely — from the permanent bans referenced above to no penalties at all such as in Maine and Vermont.
It’s a polarizing issue.
Some say the bans target minorities. Some believe that once you do your time, justice is served and you should not face any voting restrictions. Some argue that state laws are a product of politics.
In Kentucky, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer opposes any change to the state’s permanent ban.
He said that people thinking about committing a felony will consider that if they do, they would lose forever the right to vote. In other words, the ban acts as a deterrent.
A lot of research shows that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. Voting rights would? I am not buying that.
The fact is that voter turnout remains pretty dismal. People who have the right to vote don’t use it much. In the Republican primaries, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has won four primaries and garnered 18 percent of all votes cast in primaries — a whopping 430,288.
So, maybe the whole issue of felons voting is meaningless.
Then again, maybe not.
I cannot find any data on the number of felons who, once given the right to vote, do so. But data exist on who cannot. In the U.S., the ban affects an estimated 5.3 million and among those, some 2 million are black.
Perhaps the current Kentucky statute offers some insight. Along with dictating that felons cannot vote, it also bans from voting “idiots and insane persons.”
It’s a wonder any of us can vote in Kentucky.