Voting Rights for Ex-Felons: Who Gets The Final Say?

Voting Rights for Ex-Felons: Who Gets The Final Say?

Americans have a keen sense of justice and a tradition of giving second chances. Senator Paul has been adamant about restoring voting rights to non-violent ex-felons. “I’m talking about making the criminal justice system fair,” Paul stated during an event in February for the American Principles Project, “and giving people a second chance if they served their time.” (Slate)

This may generally appeal to American sensibility, but the sticking point lies in who has the final say in this matter. Senator Paul contends that—in reference to federal elections—the decision to grant ex-felons voting rights rests in the hands of the Federal government.

Paul’s position that Federal trumps State in this matter of ex-felon voting has been met with opposition by prominent Constitutional lawyer Roger Clegg.

In a recent National Review article Clegg states:

“Congress has no authority to pass such legislation, and if Senator Paul proposes it, I am sorry to say that he has shown himself to be someone who does not take the Constitution seriously.”

Clegg contends that the Constitution gives States the authority, not the Federal government, to determine whether to restore an ex-felon’s voting rights in elections. It would seem that a healthy debate needn’t include an attack on Senator Paul’s dedication to the Constitution.

The notion of granting voting rights to those individuals who have completed their sentence is not new. In 1997, fellow Republican George W. Bush signed a bill in Texas allowing ex-felons to vote. However, Bush did that on a State level. Paul’s desire to let paid-up criminals vote is not a novelty; his use of the Federal government to get it done is.

Clegg is adamant in rejecting Paul’s proposal:

“Senator Paul seems to think that states can decide who votes in state elections but that the federal government has the final say on who can vote in federal elections, but that is just not true. The U.S. Constitution itself explicitly gives the authority to decide who votes in federal elections to the states (consistent, of course, with other constitutional guarantees, like the prohibition of poll taxes).” (National Review)

Senator Paul has, in part, based the validity of his proposal on a Supreme Court ruling in Arizona.

He recently told reporters:

“The Supreme Court in the Arizona case said that Arizona could not add additional regulations to federal elections but they could to state elections … So the Supreme Court said state and federal essentially are different jurisdictions. So, federal elections, Congress does have jurisdiction. We wouldn’t be affecting state voting rights.” (National Review)

The idea that Senator Paul would defer to Federal authority over State’s rights has left a bad taste in the mouths of some voters. Some interpret his strategy as running contrary to the libertarian stance regarding the significance of state sovereignty. It is no secret that the black community represents a disproportionate percentage of the prison population, both freed and confined. Paul has illustrated in a variety of ways that he is reaching out to minorities and those who have been disenfranchised.

Giving non-violent ex-felon’s voting rights is an appealing notion to some, but perhaps the thornier question lies in who is entitled to grant that freedom. Paul seems to think the Feds get the final say. What do you think? Leave a message below, follow us on Twitter or drop a line on our Facebook page.

Written by Adam Michael Hamilton



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