New York Times Editorial

September 14, 2005


Playing Games With Voting Rights


The State of Pennsylvania took a shameful step backward when the State House passed a bill that could potentially deprive tens of thousands of parolees and probationers of the right to vote.  Even if the bill fails to be passed by the State Senate - as many people predict - it will inevitably suppress the vote in the poor and mainly minority communities where ex-felons tend to live. People in those communities are already confused about their rights under the law, and many who are actually eligible to vote don't do so out of fear that they may be penalized or turned away at the polls.


The Pennsylvania bill comes at a time when the rest of the country is moving in the opposite direction. Over the last decade, a dozen states have softened or revoked disenfranchisement laws, understanding that voting rights are integral to the mission of reintegrating ex-offenders into the community. Indeed, the American Correctional Association, which represents prison officials, recently called on states everywhere to stop barring ex-offenders from the polls because that practice was inconsistent with the goal of rehabilitation.


The Pennsylvania bill represents an odious attempt by lawmakers to undo a state court ruling overturning a law that required newly released prisoners to wait five years before getting the right to vote. Republican lawmakers who disliked the court ruling liked it even less when community activists in Democratic parts of the state began to inform ex-felons that they now had the right to return to the polls. Legislators are also trying to direct public attention away from a hugely unpopular pay raise that they voted for themselves earlier this year. That makes the attack on voting rights all the more reprehensible.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company



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