Should Ex-Felons Be Allowed to Vote? A Legal Affairs Debate

May 1, 2005

Roger Clegg, Marc Mauer

Here’s my basic position: In our democracy, there’s a strong presumption that everyone should be allowed to vote. I think that there are both instrumental and equitable reasons for this. That is, we might think about letting only the wise vote if we had some way of identifying wise people, but we don’t (it was Bill Buckley, after all, who rightly observed that he would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phonebook than by the 2000 people on the Harvard faculty), and letting everyone vote is a way of diversifying risk (like an index fund: there’s a book out now—The Wisdom of Crowds—about how the group is wise even if its constituents may be foolish). And, equitably, we believe that there is something troubling about being bossed around without having some say. The most famous formulation of this principle is, “No taxation without representation.” ...

Should Ex-Felons Be Allowed to Vote?