Marquis: Don't change rules on prison inmate voting rights
This last, painful session of the Oregon Legislature was difficult for many reasons.
The building was utterly off limits to everyone but legislators and their staff, meaning there was no ability to "lobby" legislators or staff, and the actual hearings were remote, meaning there was none of the usual interchange, conversation and rarely even any questions.
The result has been some awful legislation in the area of criminal justice, what is now often called "social justice." The voices of victims, cops and prosecutors have been ignored, and violent criminals have the full sympathy of the Democratic Party I have actively served my whole adult life.
But the icing on the cake was a June 22 Portland Tribune opinion piece, "Don't disenfranchise people who want to vote," by two current state legislators, Tawna Sanchez and Andrea Salinas. They were joined by a national advocate for convicted criminals, the head of The Sentencing Project.
They are miffed because although they passed many laws that will severely hamper fair and effective law enforcement, their efforts are aimed at allowing the absolute worst, current felony inmates to vote.
To be clear, Oregon has been in the forefront of extending the franchise — the right to vote — to former felons, even those convicted of murder or rape. The only disqualifier is for the roughly 12,000 men and women serving time for a felony inside an actual prison. People in any county are eligible, as is anyone with any criminal record, so long as they are not currently doing felony time in a state facility.
To give an idea of how tiny this number is, it represents roughly one half of 1% of the population.
Let's be clear, this very proposal had not one, but two bills in the 2021 session, neither ever even got voted on. At testimony on the Senate side, almost 100 people submitted written testimony and roughly half opposed the bill . According to their opinion piece, the legislation would even grant the 30-odd killers on death row the right to vote on matters like the death penalty or criminal sentencing.
The authors' poster boy for this proposal, which is far beyond what each state (except Vermont and Maine) provide, is a man named Anthony Williams. He is serving a life term without parole for a particularly brutal murder several years ago. He committed the crime when he was 17, so to receive a life without parole sentence is extremely unusual.
Williams speaks about the "150-person riot" he took part in at the Oregon State Correctional Institute after he had been allowed to spend several years in the Oregon Youth Authority. He wasn't in the adult prison until he was 25.
Authors of this bill, and their opinion piece, really, really want people like Williams to decide who your school board should be, whether the drunk-driving laws should be made more lenient, or even if Measure 11 should remain law.
It would be comic, if it were not so unjust, to suggest the very worst in our community should be given the right to decide others' lives. Once released, those rights automatically return to them.
Oregon already wipes away all legal barriers once a person leaves prison. There is no reason to reward the 0.3% of the population who are in prison with the vote.
When slavery was abolished, an intentional clause allowed deprivation of liberty upon lawful conviction of a serious crime.
Joshua Marquis of Astoria was Clatsop County district attorney from 1994 to 2018. He is active in the National District Attorneys Association.
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