Bernie Sanders briefly grabbed the national headlines by proposing that prison inmates be permitted to vote in elections. His position is an extension of current law in his home state of Vermont (and in Maine), where a citizen never loses the right to vote, even while incarcerated. It’s an expansion of the policy that 14 states and DC currently employ, where an ex-convict can register to vote after he has served out his punishment.

Naturally, political hay is to be made, and it was quickly asked of Bernie whether he’d give the Boston Marathon Bomber the right to vote. I admire his consistency in saying “yes,” but I reject the broader premise of leaving felons’ voting rights intact while they are incarcerated.

We punish those who violate the rights of others by abridging their rights. We take away their liberty by locking them in prison, we control their schedules and activities while they are incarcerated, we limit what they eat, drink, and otherwise consume, we limit their interactions with others and their contact with the outside world, we restrict the clothes they are permitted to wear, and so forth. We do this because they have wronged others. In libertarian terms, they violated the Non-Aggression Principle, and have thus given de facto permission to society, via government, to react by punishing them. While they are paying the penalty for their transgressions, we are obligated to offer them a penance that’s not “cruel,” but punishment should be punishment.

Voting is an adult citizen’s right, but like liberty, it’s not inviolate if one wrongs others. If you do something that lands you in jail (and, setting aside the injustice of victimless crimes, which is a deeper discussion), I see no problem with denying you the right to vote. Indeed, it seems appropriate that, if you’ve wronged the society that exists to protect your rights by violating another’s, you should lose your rights for the duration of the penance imposed upon you by the legislature and the courts.

I am in favor of restoring voting rights, generally speaking, to those who’ve paid whatever penance society has imposed on them i.e. after they’ve served out their prison and parole terms. Ditto, with exception, for gun and other rights. I’d impose a lifetime prohibition against gun ownership as part of the sentence of convicted murderers and other violent criminals, even if their incarceration was not for life, for example.

But, voting while paying your debt to society? No. You did the crime, suffer the consequences.

Unsurprisingly, and as sure as the tide, progressives have rallied behind Bernie to defend his proposal. And, unsurprisingly, conservatives have gone into hypoxic shock over the reduction ad absurdum example of the Boston Marathon bomber. While I don’t know what’s going on in that cobwebbed cavity that is Sanders’ skull (seriously – only a willful lack of rational thought can produce his continued advocacy of the murderous ideology that is socialism, no matter how it’s repackaged), so I can’t declare whether he believes this out of twisted principle or for partisan political reasons, I feel quite comfortable concluding that many of his supporters are purporting to the ideological high road while in fact salivating at the likely-to-vote-Democrat ranks of the incarcerated being added to the vote tallies.

Like so many other recent proposals, including the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), the proposal to abolish the Electoral College, and the now-shocking indifference the the Left is showing to the flood of refugees crossing the southern border, this Felon’s Vote notion is much more about changing the rules of the game to favor one party than it is about high principle or doing the right thing. It’s all a response to the perpetual outrage they feel that Trump won the Presidency. Lost on them is that Trump will no longer be president, in either 636 days or 2096 days, but that the rules they change will stay changed after he’s gone off to a retirement of cheating at golf in Mar-a-Lago. Rule changes that may very well bite them in the ass, by the way. Imagine if Trump wins the popular vote in 2020, if the NPVIC, currently enacted in 13 blue or mostly blue states, produces an electoral landslide for him, one that he uses to declare a mandate and run amok with stuff that the Left will freak out over. Is it outside the realm of possibility? Hardly, and it behooves those who want to rig the game for short-term benefit to ponder the consequences should things not go their way. Indeed, the NPVIC might prompt the minority party voters in many of these blue states to get out and vote where they might normally not have bothered, given the surety of their states’ outcomes.

Voting is one means by which we, as members of a society, participate in the setting of that society’s direction and the refining of that society’s values and mores. It is a right, but it is also a benefit of citizenship, and punishing a societal transgressor by taking away that benefit until he has atoned/paid penance for that transgression is a rational response. So, Bernie, I’ll take a pass on your felons’ voting idea, even if you’re not proposing it for cynical, partisan reasons.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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