George Will argues in favor of broad restoration of felons’ right to vote. How broad he doesn’t say, but his column effectively presents the case for a more expansive restoration than exists in many jurisdictions.
There are good arguments against moving in that direction, however. Roger Clegg presents them in a critique of Will’s piece. This is an issue over which reasonable people can differ, but I think Clegg has the stronger case.
Will asks, “What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement?” Clegg responds: “If you’re not willing to follow the law, then you should not have a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote — either directly (in the case of a referendum or ballot initiative) or indirectly (by choosing lawmakers and law enforcers).”…
If the government did not “fine-tune” the quality of the electorate this would mean, as Clegg points out, that “not only criminals but also children, non-citizens, and the mentally incompetent must be allowed to vote.” In fact, he continues, “we do have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that we require people to meet before they are given a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government.”
It is well understood that voters, by and large, vote irrationally, that is, emotionally, on the basis of “buzz” instead of facts, and inconsistently…. Voters are prone to vote against their own long-run interests because they do not understand the consequences of the sound-bite policies advocated by politicians (nor do politicians, for that matter). American democracy, by indiscriminately granting the franchise — as opposed to limiting it to, say, married property owners over the age of 30 who have children — empowers the run-of-the-mill politician who seeks office (for the sake of prestige, power, and perks) by pandering to the standard, irrational voter.
There should be a movement away from enfranchisement, not toward it.