Robert Hampton, American Renaissance, April 15, 2019
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, thinks felons could be part of the Republican Party’s “new coalition.” Last week, he made a dubious claim: “One statistic that I found very pleasing, is that in Florida, they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We have more ex-felons registered as Republicans than Democrats.”
This is a not uncommon view among Republicans. Black conservative Candace Owens said last September she believes most felons, if given the vote, would “vote against the Left.” Conservatives Charles and David Koch support felon enfranchisement, and they influence the groups they fund. Some conservatives even backed a 2015 federal measure that would have given non-violent felons the right to own a gun as well as vote.
In fact, mass enfranchisement of ex-convicts threatens to turn red states blue, and race is part of the problem.
At least six million felons were not allowed to vote in the 2016 election, but millions of others were allowed to vote. Two states—Maine and Vermont—let inmates vote from jail. Most states allow felons to vote after they have served their sentence and parole. Some states make felons complete probation, others add other limits—such as never letting sex offenders vote. In three states—Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia—felons must petition the state to get the vote back.
Florida voted in 2018 to enfranchise convicted felons after they have served their time. That vote added nearly 1.5 million felons to the rolls. How will they vote? History gives an indication. From 2007 to 2011, then-governor Charlie Crist restored voting rights to 150,000 felons, and this is how they registered: Blacks—87 percent Democrat and hardly any Republican. Non-blacks—40 percent Republican and 34 percent Democrat. Nearly a quarter of Florida felons who got the vote back in 2018 are black. If Mr. Kushner’s statement is true, it’s probably true only for non-blacks.
Felon preference for Democrats is common. A 2013 study found that in New Mexico, they registered 51.9 percent Democratic; 10.2 percent Republican. In New York, it was 61.5 percent Democratic; 9 percent Republican. In North Carolina, 54.6 percent Democratic, 10.2 percent Republican.
This has a lot to do with race. Over 50 percent of prisoners in New Mexico are Hispanic. New York’s prison population is 53 percent black. North Carolina’s, 55 percent black. And Florida’s is 46 percent black.
In states with large percentages of white prisoners—Iowa, 66 percent; Maine, 88 percent; Rhode Island, 45 percent (the largest plurality)—things are different. A 2014 survey found that in these three states, ex-convicts preferred no party affiliation by a plurality. Democrats were a close second and Republicans a distant third. Kentucky is an aberration. Even thought whites are still a majority of its prisoners, a 2008 study found felons far preferred Democrats to Republicans: 57 percent to 24.2 percent.
Nationally, most felons would probably register Democrat. Seventy percent are non-white, and black and Hispanic felons appear to have the same voting preferences as other blacks and Hispanics. One in 13 adult blacks is barred from voting because of convictions, a rate four times as high as for non-blacks. Enfranchising millions of felons would give Democrats an advantage.
This effect can already be seen in a few states.
Then-Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe gave the vote to over 200,000 felons. Forty-six percent were black and at least 40,000 of these new voters went to the polls in 2016. What was once a battleground state voted Democrat. Vann R. Newkirk of The Atlantic suspects felons helped turn the state left: “It’s possible—probable, even—that such a massive undertaking on behalf of a population heavily skewed toward African Americans motivated family members, friends, and communities of newly-restored people to vote, and also energized black voters in a post-Charlottesville contest in which racism became the key issue.”
Democrat Doug Jones won a close Senate race in deep-red Alabama in 2017, the same year the state let more convicted felons vote. Left-wing activists believe that these thousands of new black voters were a key factor in Senator Jones’s victory.
Republicans in Florida and Virginia want to limit felon voting. Florida recently passed a bill that makes ex-convicts pay off all fines and fees before they can vote. Virginia Republicans killed an amendment this year that would have given all felons the right to vote.
The only consolation Republicans may have is that few ex-cons vote. All of the studies cited above noted how few felons registered. In Florida, only 16 percent of blacks and 12 percent of non-blacks registered. But small numbers can make a difference in tight races, and Democrats think they can mobilize blacks.
Republicans can’t simply hope felon apathy or Republican-backed criminal justice reform will neutralize the Democrats’ advantage. Florida Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott won their statewide races in 2018 by only a few thousand votes. It wouldn’t have taken many ex-cons to change the outcomes.
America’s demographic transformation does not favor Republicans, and the party has to figure out ways to survive. Giving felons the vote isn’t one of them.