Feingold proposes voting rights for felons


If there’s any succinct way to described Russ Feingold, it perhaps is embodied in that corny T-Shirt that Dennis Denure sells on State St: “Spinegold”

Feingold seems to be the commander of all the political battles that other members of Congress won’t touch – civil liberties, prosecution of Bush administration officials, earmarks, and most recently, the rights of former prisoners.

In America today, more than five million citizens are unable to vote due a felony conviction, nearly three-quarters of whom are no longer in prison.  Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. John Conyers’ (D-MI) bill would allow these Americans to exercise their right to vote if they are no longer incarcerated.

Wisconsin, to my knowledge, restricts the rights of felons from voting. The Journal-Sentinel advocated the repeal of that restriction two years ago. Of course, that kind of sympathy for offenders doesn’t go far in a state with a 19th century corrections system. For that type of enlightened thought you’d probably have to go to the Gopher State, where residents are imprisoned at 1/3 of the rate as they are here.

It’s hard to gauge what kind of political support Feingold and Conyers have in Congress for this kind of reform. I can safely say that plenty of Democrats will vote against it – especially in the House where there is still a large contingent of Democrats from conservative districts in the South. One thing we can be sure of is Feingold’s commitment to this goal. It is very unlikely that he will obediently put the bill on the shelf if leaders in the party pressure him to, telling him that it’s politically dangerous. He will at least get to bring it to a floor vote, and the country will be able to see which of our leaders are truly interested in treating crime and which are simply content punishing it.

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4 Responses to “Feingold proposes voting rights for felons”

  1. Zach W. Says:

    Sconz, not to nitpick, but Wisconsin actually prohibits any felon actively on any type of supervision (probation, parole, extended supervision) from voting, not just felons on probation.

  2. The Sconz Says:

    Thanks Zach, I was hoping somebody would clarify that for me. As a member of the law enforcement community, how do you feel about felons voting?

  3. Zach W. Says:

    I’m torn on it. On the one hand, I do think it’s an idea worth considering, while on the other hand I see the point of denying felons who are still on supervision some rights.

  4. Ordinary Jill Says:

    I can see the point also, but enforcement becomes a problem. Many felons are undereducated and do not realize they cannot vote. That puts a burden on municipalities to “clear the rolls” of those who are ineligible and creates opportunities for outside consulting firms to “accidentally” purge a bunch of non-felons who happen to share names or neighborhoods with those on extended supervision. Simplifying the law to allow any citizen who is not currently incarcerated to vote removes that problem.

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