Forgive me for being impolitic, but the whole “felon vote” thing… it’s really little more than a technicality.
I base this statement on the following theses: A) if Rossi can’t prove these votes went to Gregoire, they’ll have no impact on his contest, B) there really weren’t all that many felons voting illegally, and C) who the hell cares?
My guess is the vast majority of felons who voted illegally did so unwittingly… after all, why risk going back to jail just to cast a ballot? Plus, many of these disenfranchised felons could have had their voting rights restored if only they went through the confusing process of filing the paperwork.
Yes, I know… the law is the law, and ignorance of it is no excuse. But the same can be said of the contest statute, which clearly states that Rossi must show that illegal votes went to Gregoire in order to set aside the election, a burden of proof his lawyers have argued they cannot meet. Indeed, of the six felons who have revealed their ballots in press accounts I’ve seen, five voted for Rossi, and one for Bennett.
Republicans claim that over 400 convicted felons voted illegally statewide, though the number is probably much smaller. For example, of the 64 names provided to Snohomish County elections officials by the BIAW, only 18 have been found to have voted illegally. And GOP efforts to use the felon vote as evidence of incompetence on the part of county officials ignores the fact that tracking these felons is impossible without a central, statewide database.
But while we argue over how many felons voted, who they voted for, and who is to blame, we fail to ask ourselves the most important question: So what? As The New York Times points out in a plainly titled editorial today (“Why Felons Deserve the Right to Vote“), none other than the American Correctional Association (ACA) has called for ending the practice of withholding voting rights from parolees and people who have completed their prison terms.
These laws serve no correctional purpose – and may actually contribute to recidivism by keeping ex-offenders and their families disengaged from the civic mainstream. This notion is clearly supported by data showing that former offenders who vote are less likely to return to jail. This lesson has long since been absorbed by democracies abroad, some valuing the franchise so much that they take ballot boxes right to the prisons.
The GOP’s emphasis on the felon vote has always been more of a moralistic PR argument than a legal one… a cynical attempt to insinuate that felons overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. That they have absolutely no evidence to back up their thesis (indeed, the anecdotal evidence suggests the contrary), does not seem to dissuade them from contending that these votes alone are enough to call the election results into question.
But that’s not the point.
According to the ACLU, 3.7 percent of otherwise eligible Washington voters are disqualified due to felony convictions, roughly twice the national average. And this policy of disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts minorities, with an estimated 25% of black males disqualified.
And for what?
State Sen. Pam Roach proposes routinely purging the voter rolls in an attempt to make it more difficult for felons to vote. But this would surely disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters, if through nothing but inconvenience alone.
Rather than making it more difficult for everybody to vote, it is time to follow the advice of the ACA and ACLU and others, and automatically restore voting rights to felons upon their release from prison. If we want these people to productively contribute to our Democracy, we need to make them part of it.