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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ACLU Fighting Voting Rights Violations... Should Felons Vote?

Boy, and I'm grumbling about the state legislature potentially interfering with my Constitutional rights.

The ACLU is waging a class action lawsuit to fight disenfranchisement of American Indian voters in South Dakota:

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of South Dakota on behalf of Kim Colhoff, Eileen Janis and others, who attempted to vote in the election but were improperly removed from the voter rolls due to felony convictions. Because state law only disfranchises individuals sentenced to prison and both women were just sentenced to probation, election officials unlawfully took away their voting rights.

"Felony disfranchisement laws in South Dakota have a disproportionate impact on American Indians, who represent the majority of those convicted of felonies at the federal level," said Robert Doody, Executive Director of the ACLU, South Dakota Chapter. "Worse still, it's clear that confusion regarding the South Dakota felony disfranchisement laws has resulted in legitimate voters, even those who haven't been incarcerated for felony convictions, being purged from the rolls or denied the ability to register to vote or cast their ballots" ["ACLU Challenges Illegal Disfranchisement Of American Indian Voters In South Dakota," ACLU press release, 2010.02.08].

Taking the vote away from any legal voter is unacceptable. I've heard some good arguments that even our disenfranchisement of incarcerated felons may go too far. Certainly, criminals surrender certain rights when they violate the social contract... but can we justify sentencing, say, an embezzler or a drunk driver to permanent exclusion from participation in affairs of state? One of the best ways to help a felon rehabilitate is to make that felon feel more connection to the community. The right to vote on community issues forges a pretty significant connection.


  1. This is a nonsense suit. Native Americans are not discriminated against because more of them run afoul of the law and gain records and then find out that more of them find their voting rights have been changed.

    The timing of the "discrimination" is not noted. If these women came in on the last day of registration or on voting day and expected miracles from the bureacracy, they should know better.

    In addition the handful of whites and native Americans who have permanently or temporarily lost their voting rights is insignificant in comparison with the number of Whites and Native Americans who fail to vote even if they are registered and are not discriminated against.

    The ACLU would be doing something worthwhile if they got more information out to all voters on their rights and responsibilities and indicated routes for correcting injustice if it actually exists.

    They might also suggest to prosecutors that not every bit of behavior that the general population finds to be a gross failing of morality results from anything more than ignorance or plain stupidity and does not warrant having such a large percentage of our population wasting time in prisons as those same prisons waste taxpayer resources so legislators can appear tough on crime no matter how mindless that "toughness" actually is.

  2. I have no comment about the ACLU being involved in this but do have an opinion on felons not voting. I am married to a felon. He was charged at age 18, with a non-violent felony, when I did not know him. I have to remind myself of his past when I remember that he can't vote or hunt b/c he lives a more honest, peaceful and successful life than most. He is one of the most intellegent human beings I have ever met. He follows what goes on in our town, county and country more than most also. It is a shame he can not vote when he is so passionate about our country and South Dakota. There are certain rights taken away for being a felon but I feel, at some point, the restrictions of voting and hunting should be reviewed case by case! Just a side note, my husband was off federal probation early for good behavior. This does not happen often, his former probation officer said he was one of her best cases. He has yet to be in trouble of any sort with the law (except maybe his lead foot once)!

  3. What I take issue with is the title of the ACLU's suit - "ACLU Challenges Illegal DisENfranchisement of American Indian Voters in South Dakota." It seems that what they are upset about should be ALL voters who are disenfrancised by this, not just American Indians, if they truly cared about the issue as much as about headlines.

    And after reading Jayna's letter, maybe there should be some review process for those who committed felonies based on length of time passed from the felony, type of felony, type of life lived since the felony, etc. Young people can make stupid mistakes, and it sounds like this was the case with her husband, he has changed his life, and deserves a second chance. Just my opinion here.

    Linda M

  4. Jayna, I know your husband, and I know he's working hard to be the good man you speak of. It seems unfair that, having served his sentence, he must keep paying his debt permanent exclusion from full participation in society. Linda talks about a process to let felons have a second chance. Isn't the process of serving time enough?

    By the way, do you recall the "Democracy in America" episode of Northern Exposure? We learn Chris, the DJ-philosopher, can't vote due to a felony conviction. He puts on his best suit just to go to the polls and watch democracy happen... without him. Democracy and without don't go well together.

  5. I would love to see some review process to change things. My frustration comes from the fact that he was rehabilitated. He is not a violent felon. His crime affected him & only him. My husband will admit to you that prison saved his life - but it has also made the rest of it difficult!

    Another thing I would like looked at is we have been together 6 years and married 2. We are expecting our first son on Mothers Day this year. Living in SD, I'm sure you all know the religion of hunting! It is hard for me to comprehend that he can not teach this to our son. Luckily I have a wonderful father and brother-in-law that will do this, but that father/son bonding is taken away.

    I agree Nonnie, so if the ACLU is successful, will the white felon's in SD continue to have their rights taken away?!

    Cory, I have not seen that but I am going to look it up! You know my husband?? Email me if you can, I think he'd like to talk with you!!

  6. Cory, I looked up that episode online and its so familiar! I have to be honest, there are so few people out there that actually understand politics. I think they make it so complicated on purpose. The purpose is to confuse us so we take face value of what "our leaders" are saying instead of forming our own opinions. This is why I have such admiration and respect for my husband. Although he can not vote, he follows what goes on and he understands it. There are times I have to have him explain to me what is really going on b/c I don't understand the mumbo jumbo the media is saying. I form my own opinions from it but its like we all need an interpreter! My husband knows more about the history of this great nation and our great state than I do, than most do and its such a shame b/c he could actually be a great leader!! We are both strong believers in morals and values being reflected in politics.

    Thanks for bringing that episode to my attention.



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