Blogger jonolan at Reflections from a Murky Pond has a post about Bernie Sanders’s recent suggestion that convicted, incarcerated prisoners should be able to vote. The piece, “Bernie’s Folsom Pledge,” points out not just the absurdity of such a position, but the devastating political outcomes it would have.
We all understand the former implicitly: incarcerated felons are paying their debt to society, so their usual rights—freedom of movement (now “arrested”), the ability to vote, etc.—are forfeit. There is a fruitful discussion to be had about when, and under what circumstances, former convicts might be restored their right to vote, but the notion that inmates should be able to cast ballots undermines the very concept of punitive imprisonment.
The latter point—what would the political impact be if we allowed prisoners to vote—is not considered as frequently. In part, that’s because the idea was, until relatively recently, completely ridiculous. But we live in an age in which what was once decent, traditional, and commonsensical (and, therefore, never seriously questioned or in need of articulate defense) is challenged constantly, if not already destroyed utterly, so we have to engage in mental exercises that were once entirely abstract and academic.
jonolan does a great service here in a very succinct post way. Here he details the terrifying impact a prison population could have on local elections:
Focus on the State, County, and Local elections.
Imagine, if you will, the great harm that incarcerated felons could do in those elections, especially ones for: Police Chiefs, Sheriffs, District Attorneys, Prosecutors, and/or Judges. Remember, these are elections with a much smaller electorate and, hence, the population of a prison there could and likely would greatly impact the outcome(s).
Convicted felons voting for their jailers and captors: only slightly removed from the old cliche of the insane running the asylum. Turnout in these county elections (as sheriffs are usually elected at the county level) is so low that sometimes even a dozen (or fewer) votes can swing the outcome.
According to World Prison Brief, the prison population in the United States is around 2,121,600. I couldn’t find the average population of a typical American prison—perhaps a more patient and enterprising reader can—but imagine in a rural, low-population county what impact the prison population could have. Granted, prisoners might not even be registered to vote in the county in which they find themselves incarcerated (opening up another question: where, how, and in what precinct would prisoners be registered to vote?), but if they were, they could easily elect ne’er-do-wells to key law enforcement positions.
jonolan also points out the constitutional error implicit in extending voting rights to criminals:
Voting, be it for offices within each state or for elected federal offices is a matter that is wholly within the purview of each state. The federal government can only step in to prevent certain broad abuses, e.g., denying the “right” to vote based on race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), or advanced age (26th Amendment). As such, it is grossly inappropriate for any Presidential candidate to weigh in on this matter and to use it as a plank in his campaign’s platform.
As such, Bernie’s pro-prisoner proposal would require a constitutional amendment. That would mean proposal by 2/3rds of both chambers of Congress, then ratification by 3/4ths of the States. Of course, that’s Bernie’s shield: he knows it’s insane (and, as jonolan argues, it’s probably an attempt to shore up his iffy support among black voters), but he can call for it, virtually risk-free, while gaining some brownie points with progressives.
The whole proposal is yet another tiresome example of the destructive ideology of progressivism. In its endless thirst for new “rights” to grant and extend—always at the behest of government, of course—the Left forever pushes beyond any semblance of an orderly, sane society. It would be humorous if they weren’t so effective.