• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Rick Santorum, Felon Voting, and the Constitution

    Last night’s Republican presidential debate raised the issue of felon voting.  Rick Santorum was challenged over his vote for federal legislation that would automatically restore the voting rights to felons as soon as they are released from prison and have completed any required probation or parole.

    As I testified nearly two years ago before the House Judiciary Committee, a federal statute of this nature would appear to be both unconstitutional and poor public policy. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment specifically provides that states may abridge the right to vote of citizens “for participation in rebellion, or other crime.”  Further, Section 2 of Article I and the 17th Amendment both reserve to the states the right to determine the qualifications of voters for the House of Representatives and the Senate (though those qualifications must match those for voting for state legislators).  So the Constitution places the right to determine the qualifications of individuals voting in federal elections in the hands of the states.

    A conservative like Santorum should recognize that Congress cannot take away through legislation a constitutional right specifically given to the states.  That is beyond the power of the legislative branch.

    Many states automatically restore the right to vote after a felon is released from prison, but others require individual applications.  States are entitled to make their own decisions on this issue.  That includes implementing procedures assuring a case-by-case determination as to whether an individual felon seeking to reclaim voting rights has paid his or her debt to society and, even more importantly, has shown that he or she can be trusted to exercise all of the rights of full citizenship.

    It is perfectly reasonable for states to require felons to not only have completed their prison sentences and their probation, but to also have paid all fines and any restitution imposed by a court.  Or to impose a waiting period after that to ensure that the felon is not a recidivist, as all too many are.

    What is most striking about this issue is that all of the advocacy groups that push this issue are seemingly only concerned with restoring voting rights.  In many states, voting is not the only civil right you lose when you are convicted of a felony.  You may additionally lose the right to hold public employment as a police officer or school teacher; to sit on a jury; or to be a notary public.

    You also lose your Second Amendment right to own a gun when you are convicted of a felony under both state laws and federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)).  Yet none of the legislation proposed in Congress would restore all of those other rights or amend the federal statute that permanently takes away the gun rights of “reformed” felons. The amendment proposed by Harry Reid (S.Amdt. 2879) to S.565 that Santorum voted for on Feb. 14, 2002, certainly did not.  Apparently, felons can be trusted to vote but not to own a gun.

    It is wrong to say that Santorum voted to allow felons who are in prison to vote (something they can do in Vermont and Maine); the bill he voted for did not do that.  But it was certainly a mistake to vote for an unconstitutional congressional bill that would have overridden rights specifically delegated to the states by the Constitution to determine whether felons are allowed to vote.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to Rick Santorum, Felon Voting, and the Constitution

    1. Bobbie says:

      Why not usurp states rights?? All the more convenient to drag in national governing government control!!!!
      I agree with Mitt on this one. No one should be given the privilege to vote when they've violated someone elses physical rights of being. Wonder what that would say about who they would vote for???? hmm…
      States rights!

      • Winghunter says:

        That was a whole 3 weeks ago, Bob. Like every single other issue, Mittens mind changes just as often as the wind does.

      • so i wouldnt be aloud to vote because of a victimless crime. are you smarter than me and know what is better for me and my family. are you more of an american than me. i served in the usn how about you. get a clue this is america voting is a right not a privilage.

    2. Indy says:

      Thank you for addressing this, you saved me a lot of research time.

    3. Proud Kafir says:

      You do not make since…you say it is up to the STATES..RICK was WORKING for the STATE of PENNS when he voted for that…I think RICK was voting with the constitution in mind and you are making it sound like he was wrong..sounds like you are the one confused.

    4. Stan M. Yonashiro says:

      As a Santorum supporter, I am disappointed that the Senator either does not know of this or did not point out that he had made an error in what he HAD voted for. I hope that someone would bring this to the Senator's attention as I am certain he is an honorable man and would admit to his error.

    5. Jeanne Stotler says:

      Evidently this doesn't apply in D.C., Barry not only votes but is in office. I think voting rights could be restored in cases where possion of Pot because this should not be a felony in the first place. Maybe all should be weighed on case by case value.

    6. Phyllis Poole says:

      I'm sure Mr Santorum did not expect his vote to supercede any state right. He has emphatically professed other issues to the states.
      Romney has passed laws in his state to restore rights to felons even BEFORE t hey have paid their "dues" to their fellow citizens. This is much more upsetting to me because what anyone does in any other state eventually affects all of us ME!!!
      I believe it should have something to do with how many arrests and the quality of the offense. Someone who is a teen ager with an minor offense (usually stealing or alcohol) and never had another offense for a few years should not be considered unable to vote again. Many teens do dumb things and regret it the rest of their lives.
      PLEASE GOD HELP US!!!

    7. Great Work. Keep the information coming.

    8. Daune says:

      You are assuming that Rick Santorum is a conservative. I think that for the most part he is a social conservative, but everything I've seen so far tells me he is not a fiscal or constitutional conservative. I suspect that is why he has such limited appeal – and what appeal he does have tends to be in religious, fundamentalist states.

    9. Lloyd Scallan says:

      How long has Dems demanded felons have the right to vote, regardless of weather or not they are "reformed" or even out of prison? Of course Santorum is not advocating that drastic action, but it is the first step. Ask why? Ron Paul provided the answer. The overwhelming majorty of felons are black, not because of discrimination, but because blacks commit more crime. So Santorum is pandering to black voter by suggesting the federal government take the decision of the right to vote away from the states, which fits perfectly into the agenda of the Democrat Party, not conservatives.

    10. Shawk says:

      This is the problem with most politicians,They either don't know what the constitution says or they don't care. We need people in Govt. That follow the constitution.

    11. This is a perfect example of politicians getting involved in trying to protect people's rights. the problem is that it's none of their business. Each state decides voting criteria. By rstripping this right from the states, one more nail is put into the coffin of freedom. Note to politicians: FOCUS ON YOUR JOB AND LET THE STATES FOCUS ON THEIRS.

    12. Ray VerWys says:

      As a Conservative I understand the argument. I also wonder why we believe that after a person has served his or her time, and "paid his dept" to society, they are not a full citizen. If a person has paid his dept…he has paid his dept!! I get that when someone is locked up, they forfeit their rights to many things, but when they are out, paying taxes, and hopefully being a productive member of society, they are participating as a full citizen. Not allowing them to vote is wrong, if not un-Constitutional. I am in favor of a Constitutional amendment making it a infringement on a persons right to not alow them to vote.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×