Jordan Candler / November 28, 2018

Republicans Need to Court Ex-Felon Voters

“For both their sake and ours, we all will benefit from calling on the best of our human instincts.”

On Election Day, voters in Florida opted to make voting a legal right for a significant number of ex-felons. The infusion of a million or so new voters could turn Florida blue because most felons veer to the left. Setting aside the prudence of this decision, the Washington Examiner’s Quin Hillyer inexorably observes: “It’s time for Republicans to start appealing to felons.”

Other states have likewise restored ex-felons’ voting rights, including Virginia. At least Florida did it the right way — through the ballot box. A few years ago, then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s effort to instate blanket clemency to nearly a quarter-million ex-felons was foiled by the state’s supreme court, which reminded him that clemency in that state is only permissible on a case-by-case basis. McAuliffe’s scheme was purely political — turning Virginia blue. And while Florida Democrats were aboveboard in their approach, the outcome could be replicated unless Republicans begin courting this demographic.

Hillyer contends, “They should do so for humane reasons. They should do so because practical benefits might accrue for the broader society. And they should do so because of raw political calculation: Ex-offenders increasingly will be voting, and so will their extended families.” Importantly, not all crimes are created equal. The opioid crisis, for instance, is emblematic of the fact that a large portion of felons aren’t actually violent. And that distinction is important. In the Examiner, Hillyer profiles Stephen Nodine, who is himself a felon. As Hillyer writes:

Nodine says ex-con demographics have changed. With the advent of the opioid crisis, more and more working-class families (cultural Trump-type voters) now feature family members whose crimes began not by acquiring inherently, always-illegal substances such as cocaine, but instead by getting hooked on otherwise legal prescription drugs. Throw in white-collar criminals, plus people like a 24-year-old young woman he knows who got a felony DUI-related conviction after a family tragedy, and suddenly one sees at least a large minority of ex-cons to whom Republicans might appeal if their message is right.

Here’s the bottom line, according to Hillyer: “Frankly, most of us don’t want to care much about lawbreakers. But for both their sake and ours, we all will benefit from calling on the best of our human instincts. If doing so also is smart politics, so much the better.” Republicans have another huge opportunity not just to recruit voters but to make the case for why conservatism is often the cure for society’s ills. A failure to do so is both politically and culturally destructive.

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