Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Giving Felons the Vote in Maryland

The Maryland legislature is poised to repeal the state law disenfranchising convicted felons. "'Once they have paid their debt to society, clearly they should be able to vote,' [Maryland] Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat, said yesterday." |Link|

It seems an odd issue for legislators to take up, since I imagine most felons wouldn't bother to vote even if their rights were restored. But some of us enjoy tilting at windmills...

The Republican governor of Maryland, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has threatened to veto the bill.

The bill's lead sponsor -- Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat -- said yesterday that Mr. Ehrlich's position reinforces the racist underpinnings of the state law that denies the vote to felons, of whom about 85,000 are black.

Mrs. Marriott, who is black, said Mr. Ehrlich's sentiment "reflects the thinking" of Carter Glass, a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901 who said felon disenfranchisement aims to "eliminate the darkie as a political factor."

"We all were raised in a racist society," said Mrs. Marriott, stressing that she was not calling Mr. Ehrlich a racist. "Let us be clear about what were the intentions of these laws." |Link|

While that is a fascinating piece of legislative history, to my mind it only shows that one of the rationales of the bill was racist. Politics makes strange bedfellows and I can think of lots of reasons for disenfranchising felons that does not stem from their race..

Felons are people who have tried to subvert our society. We restrict their access to firearms and the ballot box as well as most government entitlements.

And I think the Republicans are correct that this issue will not play well with voters. Is this another case of Democrats shooting themselves in the foot to make some oddly principled stand?

I recently saw Kurt Schmoke speak. He used to be mayor of Baltimore but is now Dean of Howard University's Law School.

He thought one issue that really contributed to socially inequality in Maryland (among many places) was the system of using property taxes to fund schools. He made several attempts to ameliorate the system that were all turned back. His proposal to use gambling revenues to fund schools was derisively labeled slots for tots.

That strikes me as a much more worthy issue for Maryland Democrats than giving felons the vote.

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