By now you’ve probably heard about the bill pending in the General Assembly which, if passed, will allow Kentucky voters to decide whether to amend the state’s constitution and allow convicted felons to vote. Andy Wolfson penned an informative article in Sunday’s Courier-Journal, pointing out the fact that the Bluegrass State is only one of four jurisdictions that bars people with records from the polls.
It appears that 186,348 convicted felons call the Commonwealth home, and the Democrats in Frankfort feel that depriving them of the franchise is somehow unfair. This has nothing to do with the prevailing suspicion that most of these miscreants would register Democrat if given the chance.
Problem is, Section 145 of Kentucky’s Constitution contains the following provision:
The following persons … shall not have the right to vote:
1. Persons convicted of treason, felony or bribery in an election, or of a high misdemeanor as determined by the General Assembly. Those excluded may be restored to their civil rights by executive pardon.
2. Persons who, at the time of the election, are in confinement under the judgment of a court for some penal offense.
3. Idiots and insane persons.
Clearly, this prohibition is anachronistic and racist. According to statistics from the League of Women Voters, nearly one in four African Americans is banned from Kentucky’s polls because of those restrictions, compared with one of every 17 Kentuckians overall. The reason for this disparity, of course, is that African Americans commit felonies at a rate grossly disproportionate to their numbers.
Kentucky’s Democrats want to allow voters to consider a constitutional change that would allow people convicted of a felony other than treason, intentional killing, a sex crime or bribery the right to vote after expiration of probation, final discharge from parole or maximum expiration of their sentence.
It’s hard to argue against the fairness of this proposed change; after all, when a bank robber has paid his debt to society, he shouldn’t be prevented from exercising the right of franchise. It’s hard enough that he will have trouble finding suitable employment—say, in a bank—and society shouldn’t add insult to injury.
But what about “idiots and insane persons.” The Kentucky Constitution won’t allow them to vote either. Is this entirely fair? Their lack of mental capacity—through no fault of their own—is used by a society prejudiced against the weak-minded to deprive them of their God-given right to self-government. They still pay taxes, don’t they? Taxation without representation is tyranny! (We didn’t come up with that phrase on our own, and you might Google it, if you’re interested.) It’s high time someone stood up for the rights of idiots!
Of course, the term “idiot” is not used much by folks in the mental health professions any more (It is still in common use among people who post comments to our articles in The Arena). Originally, it was applied to persons with an IQ of less than 25 (IQs of 26-50 were termed “imbeciles,” and from 51-70 were “morons”). Today, the preferred terms are “mentally retarded,” or—more politically correct—“intellectually challenged.”
Since the IQ of the average Kentuckian is well above the idiot level, this disenfranchisement does not present a serious concern, at first blush. But Kentucky’s Constitution also prevents “insane persons” from voting (but not from running for political office). And any clear reading of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV will reveal a category accurately describing the personality of each of us. If you don’t agree with this, you are obviously in denial.
Wolfson’s article quotes the authors of “Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy,” as revealing research tending to prove that if felons had the right to vote, it would have tipped the 2000 presidential election to Al Gore over George W. Bush and elected Walter “Dee” Huddleston to the U.S. Senate in 1984, instead of Mitch McConnell. He also quotes UofL professor Gennaro F. Vito in saying that he cannot understand opposing something that allows more people to vote. “To me, this is incredibly backward,” he said. “What are they afraid of? Democracy?”
Kentucky’s Democrats have tried to get this much-needed legislation passed in the legislature five times in the past, but their attempts have been thwarted by the mean-spirited Republicans each time. There appear to be no definitive studies comparing the average IQs of Democrats and Republicans.
One continues to hope that the legislature will one day allow idiots, imbeciles, and morons to vote in our state; along with convicted felons. To quote Prof. Vito: “What are they afraid of? Democracy?”
To the Democratic mind, the notion of letting armed robbers, kidnappers, counterfeiters, forgers, burglars, dope dealers and arsonists vote on election day makes a lot of sense. “President Al Gore.” Has kind of a ring to it, don’t it?
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