Thursday, February 15, 2007

King's proposal not grounded in justice

Montgomery Advertiser

Name one good reason why a felon should not have his or her voting rights automatically restored once he or she has satisfied all the requirements of the sentence and has, in the old but apt phrase, paid his or her debt to society. We've yet to hear one.

A proposal by Attorney General Troy King to require all felons to petition the state Department of Pardons and Paroles for restoration of voting rights is seriously flawed, in both philosophical and practical terms. King should rethink his position.

A felony conviction is serious business, with serious consequences. Fines and restitution may accompany the period of incarceration. But once all those conditions have been met, there is no justification for not restoring the voting rights of the individual.

Indeed, it is plainly in the interest of society to do so. An individual's re-entry into the free world surely stands a better chance of success if he or she has the opportunity to be a full participant in society through the democratic process. The same justice that sends someone to prison ought also to extend to a fair and just return to society. The concept of paying a debt to society has much to recommend it.

On practical grounds, King's proposal is problematic as well. An already heavily burdened parole board would have even more work added, creating what Sarah Still, who oversees the pardons division, called "a nightmare" in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Our officers have more than enough to do without doing investigations," Cynthia Dillard, the board's acting executive director, told AP. "And our board has more than enough to do without holding hearings."

The only thing there is to investigate is whether the former felons in question have met all of the conditions of their sentencing — served all their time, completed their paroles, and paid all court-ordered restitution and fines. That should not require hearings. Surely that could be confirmed by the courts and voting rights then restored.

Most other states make such immediate restorations. It's fair and just, and Alabama should join their ranks.

One would think with King committing so many ethics violations and crimes of his own he might consider changing his opinion before he finds himself on the other side of the bars and with no real chance of getting his voting rights back. Now that would be poetic justice...would it not?

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