Monday, June 04, 2007

Felons should finish paying their debt to society first

Way to go Reince.

Posted in Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Reince is correct. It is time for us to find a little common sense when it comes to our voting system.

A man convicted of a dozen serious crimes - ranging from armed burglary to sexual assault - was in and out of prison for years and is set to be paroled soon.

Another, who is a registered sex offender, committed crimes several times and is now on probation.

They both say they've cleaned up their acts, and now they want to vote.

It seems obvious: If you don't have enough respect for the law to abide by it, you shouldn't be able to be a part of the process that decides and writes those laws for everyone else. Unfortunately, this principle isn't quite as obvious to some.

When a felon is sentenced, the sentence usually consists of jail time, probation time and other forms of supervision. There are folks in Wisconsin, and in our own state Legislature, who want to restore voting rights to felons as soon as they are released from prison but before these felons complete their entire sentences.

This is a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of people who abide by our laws and refrain from committing serious crimes. Parole and probation are part of the state's corrections process, and felons remain under the state's supervision for many reasons. Those who have not completed their sentences have not paid their debt to society and shouldn't be allowed to vote until they have done so.

Some say felons should be able to vote earlier because it helps them reintegrate into society. However, instead of tarnishing the rights of others by using the voting process as a reintegration tool, let's make sure convicted felons are properly integrated into society first before we allow them to make decisions about how the rest of us live our lives.

Remember, the reason these potential voters are convicted felons is because they spurned our system of democratically enacted laws. These criminals chose their own destiny, and that choice must have consequences.

In America, voting is a right, but even rights have some limitations.

For good reason, our laws don't allow just anyone to vote. Children can't vote because they have not reached the age of majority. Non-citizens can't vote because they are not afforded the right to do so under the Constitution, and they have no standing to vote. Convicted felons still serving their sentences should be no different.

As a society, we have established several limitations on convicted felons. This is nothing new. Among other things, we don't allow felons to own firearms or to hold certain jobs. We don't allow sexual predators to work and live in certain areas. We don't allow forgers and perjurers to hold certain governmental jobs.

So why on Earth would we trust felons still serving a sentence to take part in our democratic process - to make important decisions that influence how law-abiding citizens live their lives? It's akin to allowing your 2-year-old to choose the dinner meal. If that happened, surely M&Ms and cookies would be on the menu every night.

The Supreme Court has long concluded that the 14th Amendment allows states to deny voting rights to these felons because their past acts have proved them unworthy of voting.

And what does it say about us - as a society - when the day has come that enforcing a complete sentence upon a felon is somehow considered inhumane?

Convicted felons have a debt to pay to society. Once it is paid in full, they can vote again. But to allow them to vote while still serving their sentence is absurd.

Reince Priebus is chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

No comments: