Who gets to vote?

My last post, I noted that (anecdotally)  the majority of parents in the Camden City school district were ineligible to vote for being immigrants or felons. Should this be?

I know a bunch of you out there are in favor of restoral of rights for felons after leaving the pen, because if they were too dangerous to have a gun, they shouldn’t have been let out. I agree with that.  If we allow them to have guns, why stop them from voting? “Because they’ll vote for the other side” isn’t a valid argument here. They’re out, they’re paying their taxes (even if they’re under the income tax limit, they pay property tax and sales tax, which are local taxes). Shouldn’t they get some input into the political process,once they’ve served their time?

How about for legal aliens? (If you’re here illegally, get your butt home and jump though the proper hoops. I have too many friends who have gone through the tortuous procedure to become a resident alien legally to feel any sympathy for the queue-jumpers). At least for local (city/county level) elections?  There’s too many potential policy implications for state-level voting for me to feel comfortable letting non-citizens vote at the state level, and, of course, input into national decisions is a privilege of citizenship. At the local level, though?

The floor is open for discussion.

28 thoughts on “Who gets to vote?”

  1. For me, it is simple. If you are citizen, you should get to vote. If you are not a citizen, you don’t get to vote. Voting is one of the privileges/responsibilities of citizenship. I would be willing to prevent voting by felons currently serving time in prison. But, that is as far as I am willing to limit the vote.
    I find it amusing that we even talk about this in our country. As far as I know, there is not another country on this planet that allows non-citizens to vote.

  2. The average recidivism rate for cons is something like 66-75%. With numbers like that, returning gun rights upon completion of their sentence is silly. You’re basically making it easy to arm someone who is more than likely going to commit another crime. Not the best idea.

    If you want to return rights to felons, I would think it would have to be done over time. Take a look at the recidivism curves and start returning rights based on them. If most of the ex-cons are back in prison in say 3-5 years, then returning rights after that might be something worth considering.

  3. With immigrants, I’m under the opinion that if they pay the taxes that fund the school district, then they should be able to vote in district elections. Higher level government elections are more debatable, but school districts have always been a weird sort of quasi-government entity to me. Not letting them vote would be like preventing them from taking part in their HOA.

  4. @Tim: Right now, we don’t allow non-citizens to vote. And for the levels of government where citizenship matters, I don’t think we should. But, is “citizenship” meaningful at the city/county level, or is it residency that is meaningful. Heck, there’s college towns where the out-of-state students are permitted to register to vote! Once you’ve done that, what’s the limit? I saw an article a while back about a NY state township that allowed the snowbirds to vote locally.

    @Jeff: Tracking recidivism rates across all felons isn’t going to tell us a lot of what we need to know to make public policy decisions concerning the implications of laws punishing felons for life without reconsideration. And at 66-75% recidivism rate, there’s still one in three or one in four who lead non-criminal lives afterwards. Should we punish them for the sins of the men and women they went to jail with? Particularly with the devaluation of felony these days. I happen to think there may be some grey area between “not dangerous enough to lock up” and “too dangerous to have a gun”, but that ought to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

  5. @Ian Part of the problem is, how do you segregate out the non-citizens who are voting in local elections from those who are citizens. I don’t know about other states, but In Texas all levels of election are often held on the same day. Also, it is incredibly easy to fraudulently register to vote. They do not check the information on the voter registration cards. So, all you have to do is lie on it. I’ve seen where people have registered their pets and even a ventriloquist’s dummy at a bar.
    Also, using your logic, why shouldn’t immigrants get to vote at all levels of government. They pay taxes to all levels of that government.
    The thing is, if an immigrant wants to vote, all they have to do is choose to become a US citizen.

  6. @Tim: different ballots, dependent on registration, the way we do closed primaries. That’s the easy part of it. The hard part, as you noted, is the philosophical part of it. What does it mean to be a citizen versus a resident? Where do you draw the line as to what kind of input a resident has versus a citizen into governance? It’s easy to say “oh, they should decide to be citizens”, but that’s an arduous process fraught with difficulty, and for citizens of some other countries, fraught with legal peril regarding their holdings and right to enter their former country.

    As for registration fraud, what of it? I think you ought to have to do more than fog a mirror to register to vote right now. Hell, as of the 2008 elections, I’m apparently still a registered voter in my previous state, and I haven’t been a legal resident of VA since ’98 or so. And I can’t find out how to let the VA board of elections know to deregister me.

  7. @ 2 Jeff

    You’re basically making it easy to arm someone who is more than likely going to commit another crime.

    Your assumption is that laws against legal sales to felons makes it harder for them to get a gun.

    Since we continue to have felons committing crimes using guns, I would have to say your assumption is wrong.

  8. Re: felons

    @ Jeff: From personal observation working in a law office, most repeat felons don’t make it off probation before they commit another crime. The ones that do almost invariably have had at least one probation violation (either failure to comply with the terms of probation or some other, minor, offense) with minimal to no consequences. I would say that, unless actual evidence contradicts my anecdotal observations, the solution would be to ensure that probation violations result in significant consequences (i.e., return to jail for a significant period of time) and extended probation after those consequences are completed.

    Once they have completed their sentence (including probation after release) they should have all rights restored. Period. If they can’t be productive, law-abiding citizens, they shouldn’t be out of jail, and probation is the “test period” for determining that. If they can be productive, law-abiding citizens, they should have all the rights of citizens to go with the obligations.

    Also, Packetman is exactly right:

    Your assumption is that laws against legal sales to felons makes it harder for them to get a gun.

    Since we continue to have felons committing crimes using guns, I would have to say your assumption is wrong.

    Re: legal, non-citizen residents

    Voting is pretty much the core benefit of citizenship. I would definitely say no to non-citizens voting in government matters, even locally. School board elections, though? Maybe.

    Here, and I assume it’s the same elsewhere, the school board can only spend money allocated to it by the local government, and cannot raise taxes – they can only ask the local .gov for more money, and the local .gov decides where that money comes from and whether to approve it or not (we actually have a big debate about that here right now, due to the collapse of the gym at one of the high schools – it’s completely disrupted the budget because of other large projects that really can’t be put off). Since the school board decisions directly effect non-citizens children, and it’s not an actual governing body, I would not be against allowing them to vote for school board elections.

  9. Re: voting logistics.

    I’ve been a poll worker (officially, Election Inspector) in my home state.

    In some areas, we have School Districts that cross different geographical boundaries than City lines. There might also be State-level legislative offices that have different boundaries than City Lines.

    It is usually possible for the City Clerk to figure out how to issue ballots inside Election Precincts which contains voters from two School Districts. Usually, there are two ballot types, and the poll books contain markers for which ballot type to issue.

    Similar efforts could be put in place to separate Local-Only voters from Local/State/Federal voters. However, such differences can be confusing for those handling the Balloting process. (I am very thankful that the City Clerk I used to work under actively recruited poll workers who weren’t women over the age of 55…I’ve seen too many polls where all workers were local grandmothers…)

    It is theoretically possible, but a large number of difficulties need to be ironed out on the local level by the local Clerk. (After the law is written…Election law, especially law concerning ID, is fraught with political trouble.)

  10. “Your assumption is that laws against legal sales to felons makes it harder for them to get a gun.”

    I would argue that any process like background checks makes it harder for them to legally acquire a gun. This doesn’t mean they can or won’t get a gun, but it creates a barrier for entry. I would like to see any economic analysis were barriers for entry actually make it easier to procure something. Because guns are so desirable to the criminal class, this barrier for entry is effectively very small.

    I would argue that the real benefit of this law is protecting law-abiding gun owners. You segregate legal from illegal sales. Gun shops can only sell to honest citizens and are not a major direct source firearms used in crimes (which come from straw purchases or theft). Suddenly increasing restrictions on gun shops and licensed dealers can be shown to be horrible public policy. This has become a huge policy strong point for the gun rights side.

    Letting a large and mostly criminal population automatically use the honest citizen line isn’t going to help more than it hurts.

    “Should we punish them for the sins of the men and women they went to jail with?”

    Permanent loss of civil rights is the result of the felony conviction that sent them to jail. They came to associate with their cell mates because of that conviction. This is not guilt by association. It is association because of guilt. The issue is an equitable system to return those rights upon completion of sentence and reform. That system will require guidelines and I propose that a study of recidivism rates after release be used as an objective guideline for further policy development.

    You are correct that the felony class of crimes is badly diluted and needs reform. But leniency towards with all felons is not the answer to it. The answer is reforming the felony system so that non-violent felons get a fairer shake.

    If you’re going to cast the net wider than the current pardon system, you need give the decision-makers some aids. Because if you line up a bunch of cons or excons, I can guarantee you that they’ll all tell you that they’re reformed. 40% will be back inside within a year. Two thirds will be convicted within 3 years.

  11. In NJ, once the school budget passes, the town is on the hook for funding it. The approval for the school budget is also the approval for the taxes for it. But it is passed separately from the rest of the town budget.

    Sure, in cases where citizenship is meaningful, voting is and should be a privilege of citizenship. But, is citizenship meaningful at the local level? You can choose to be a non-citizen of a country you are resident in. I spent a number of years not being a citizen of the state I was resident in. And my citizenship mattered in that case – as a citizen of Virginia I had certain privileges and responsibilities that were irrelevant of my residency. (I’m really regretting not having acquired some firearms while I was still a VA resident, for example; and I owed VA personal property taxes). My point is, you *can* choose your citizenship in a state or nation on factors other than your residence. You can’t with regards to your locality. Residency defines citizenship of a locality, and vice versa.

  12. One of the reasons for punishment is deterrence.

    Depending on the jurisdiction, a felon loses many rights for life, particularily those involving certain professions (teacher, stock broker, lawyer, physician, nursery school worker, registered engineer, etc.).

    He also loses, again depending on the jurisdiction, the right to vote, own a gun, or drive a truck loaded with hazardous chemicals.

    To paraphrase the Lord High Mayor of London, “Oh, we’re not depriving you of a vote (gun, etc.) because you defrauded the state, we’re depriving you of a vote (gun, etc.) so that others won’t defraud the state.”

  13. We could solve this problem alot easier by getting the government out of the education business all together…..

  14. Someone who has proven that they can’t be trusted to live within the confines of civilized society shoul NOT have a say in how that society is run.

  15. @Anon: Then why allow them back into civilized society?

    The solution might well be a combination of reducing the number of offenses that are felonies and more harshly punishing the remaining offenses. But, there comes a point at which you either let them out or put them in a pine box.

  16. Regarding voting rights: I am increasingly leaning towards the revocation of universal suffrage.

    In many cases throughout society, you do NOT get to vote on matters where you have a conflict of interest.

    For example, if the company of which you are a board member is considering entering into a deal to buy goods or services from a company that you own – you don’t get to vote.

    If you are a land owner in local government, and a plan to rezone your land is proposed, you don’t get to vote.

    I propose that if you receive income of any kind directly from government, you should not get to vote.

    To me it is a plain conflict of interest. If you are directly employed by government – no vote. If you receive welfare payments – no vote. If you receive direct benefit from subsidies – no vote.

    To prevent abuse, I would legislate that ALL government assistance can be refused – I don’t want to see the government give everyone a dollar, and instantly render them unable to vote.

  17. @Sendarius – and that’s an argument that can be made, too. That, however, would take a constitutional amendment.

  18. @Rustmeister: And arguably be back where we started. But you’d have to repeal a couple of pesky constitutional amendments to get there. And since the income tax came in, the feds aren’t primarily running on property-related taxes anyway.

    Druther just get rid of the fraud – you want to vote, you show up and vote once. Nno mail-in ballots for anyone not unavoidably out-of-state. Maybe run the polls for more than one day, but if you want to cast your vote, you show up in person, go behind the curtain, and pull the lever in solitude.

  19. @Rustmeister:

    I considered that option: but how many potential voters only manage to become home owners/land owners due to government largesse?

    Wasn’t that the whole problem with Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac?

    Here in Oz we have/had a “first home buyer’s” scheme – government gives you a cheque for $8,000 to assist in buying your first home.

    For me that is a disqualifier for voting rights – why should you get to vote in a government that promises to give you some more of MY money?

  20. @Sendarius: in the US, interest on the mortgage for the primary residence is tax-deductible; as of Reagan’s tax reforms the only deductible interest. Should every mortgagee be denied voting rights? And how do you figure people on unemployment isurance? In every place I’ve been, it has been at least partially a form of insurance in that there are deductibles paid into the system, by the employer, and the deductibles are affected by the performance of the employer. But the checks come from the government, theoretically for a short period of time (when I last was unemployed, the checks ran out at the 6 month mark).

  21. @ Ian Argent:

    As regards mortgage interest being tax deductible, I consider government choosing not to collect tax as distinct from directly cutting me a cheque – a subtle distinction, I know. :) (Note: Here in Oz, interest on mortgage payments for your residence is NOT deductible, yet interest on mortgage payments for an income generating investment IS deductible, even if the investment incurs a notional loss.)

    WRT unemployment “insurance”, here in Oz the “dole” comes from general revenue without specifically marked contributions. It apparently has no time limit as I know of people of working age whose PARENT’S sole income for their entire lives has been “unemployment benefit” – they have NEVER been employed.

    I don’t qualify for the government scheme (apparenlty because I plan for myself and have acquired too many assets), so I have entered into a contract with a private insurer to cover that situation. Unfortunately, I still get to pay the taxes that fund the scheme. :(

    If the goverment was able to fund benefits entirely from contributions, then in my preferred minimist form of government I would expect it to be privatised. I suspect that other funds are being used to “top-up” contributions though.

    So in essence, I would treat ALL DIRECT payments from government as disqualifiers for suffrage.

    Just as I would allow individuals to refuse payments and thus retain voting rights, I would allow government to choose not to accept taxes that it would otherwise levy without affecting suffrage – the logic being the same: I don’t want to allow government to pay everyone a dollar and thus manipulate the electoral rolls, and I don’t want them to be able to refuse to collect a dollar with the same result.

  22. What about veterans benefits or social security benefits? Should those people be allowed to vote? Anyone?

  23. @tjbbpgobIII;

    In my imaginary world – no, they can’t vote.

    I am NOT saying that veterans don’t deserve the benefits that they have earned – but my thought exercise was and is “How do we prevent *the people* from voting themselves an ever larger share of the public purse?”.

    Veterans would, like all others, have the option of refusing benefits and retaining the vote.

    I WOULD count MEDICAL benefits (treatment or compensation for injury incurred as a consequence of employment) as a different class of payment – thanks for prompting that thought.

  24. Sendarius; You say a veteran getting medical benefits is ok in your world to vote. Now, in order for you to gain a pension, how many years will you work, at your salary for your pension, and still retain the vote?

  25. This would apply to active-service military as well, then?

    At any rate, this is a response to a symptom, that the power and money of government is available to be captured by a motivated minority. The correct solution is to reduce the power and money available to government such that there are not sufficient rents available to be captured by sufficiently motivated minority groups.

    Instead of limiting who can control Leviathan, limit Leviathan itself.

  26. @tjbbpgobIII:

    I think Ian’s next post is germane here, but to answer your question:

    In my imaginary world, if I wish to retain the right to vote in retirement, I will work for as long as necessary to establish a sufficiently large income source that is not provided by government.

    In reality, I don’t expect government to provide me with “retirement benefits”. I simply don’t believe that it is a role of government. In fact given the aging population, I don’t expect government to be able to AFFORD “retirement benefits”. I understand that some of the taxation levied on US workers is labeled “social security” (but apparently plundered by .gov for other purposes) – I would see that tax abolished, leaving workers free to procure/purchase their own “retirement plan”.

    As a consequence, I am planning to be what we call a “self-funded retiree”. Somewhat jocularly, I figure if you haven’t been able to plan to provide for yourself, maybe allowing you to plan for the entire nation by way of voting isn’t such a good idea. :)

  27. Allowing aliens to vote is a very BAD idea. First of all, aliens (illegal and otherwise) already do vote, illegally and by the truck load. That needs to be fixed…
    Allowing naturalized citizens to vote would very literally, end this country. To overthrow America would be nothing but to fund a relatively small number of immigrants into America. Why wage an expensive war when your exploding population could be sent here to live instead? It might be expensive at first, but after a few waves, the laws would be voted the way they want, making it even easier. Concentrate in certain areas to maintain cohesion and concentrate the vote for their candidates. In short order, the constitution could be repealed by people that never knew it’s value. This is the very reason why aliens are not allowed to vote. Criminals shouldn’t vote because they’re freaking criminals, their vote can be bought. But, over time, they should have the opportunity to earn back trust, but not on the day they get out jail.

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