1/07/2010

9th Circuit decision gives felons the right to vote while they are serving in prison

The decision: Felons should be allowed to vote because the criminal justice system supposedly incarcerates blacks relative to whites more than it should. The AP discussion on this is here.

A small part of my discussion on felons voting in my book Freedomnomics.

Two, many convicted criminals face severe penalties in addition to a prison sentence. Many jobs are forbidden to felons, often making it hard for them simply to earn a living. Yet, since the 2000 election, the loss of voting rights has suddenly emerged as the most pressing problem that former convicts supposedly face. Restoring voting rights, we are told, is indicative “in so many ways of citizenship that it is more important than owning a gun or being able to hold [a particular job].”
Felons themselves, however, have other priorities. In addition to finding a job, felons, who frequently live in poor, high-crime neighborhoods want to be able to defend themselves. In Virginia, the number one reason felons cite for asking for clemency is the desire to regain their right to own a gun. The Assistant for Clemency for the Governor of Virginia for 1994 and 1995 reported that restoring “voting rights was never on the application for clemency.”
According to academic studies, from 1972 to 1996, on average 80 percent of felons would have voted Democratic. An overwhelming 93 percent ostensibly would have voted for Bill Clinton in 1996. In addition to giving the Democrats the White House in 2000, this “felon vote” would have given Democrats control of the Senate from 1986 to 2004.
But these studies are problematic. Felons’ voting patterns are assumed to be the same as those of non-felons of the same race, gen- der, age, and educational status. The estimates do not account for the possibility that there is something fundamentally different about felons that could cause them to vote differently. If two people are of the same race, gender, age, and educational status but one person commits mur- ders or rapes, there might be something quite different between these two people that could affect how they vote.
Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 602 adults in Washington State in May 2005. Of the respondents, 102 were felons who had their voting rights restored, while 500 were non-felons. They were asked about their political preferences, as well as background information about their race, gender, education level, religious habits, employment, age, and county of residence. This survey makes it possible to test the assumption that felons and non-felons are essentially the same.
The survey’s results indicate that felons vote even more frequently for Democrats than one would estimate based solely on their personal characteristics. After accounting for all these factors, I found that felons were 36 percent more likely than non-felons with the same character- istics to have voted for Kerry over Bush and 37 percent more likely to be registered Democratic. While African-American and Asians in Wash- ington tend to vote for “a few more Democrats than Republicans,” felons among those groups vote for “mostly Democrats.” In fact, felons in both groups voted exclusively for Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. . . .

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