Pro: Felony Disenfranchisement

The felon disenfranchisement laws of many states, most of which originated during a time when restricting the political power of black voters was a greater priority than maintaining the moral fiber of the electorate, recently received a long-overdue public condemnation from Attorney General Eric Holder. Felons should be allowed to vote immediately after release.
In general, regulating which eligible voters are allowed to cast ballots seems undemocratic. It seems reasonable that felons must demonstrate themselves capable of good and ethical conduct before their suffrage is restored. However, no one would endorse similar restrictions based on “capability,” like preventing the uneducated from voting, even though such a policy would increase the reliability of our collective decision-making. The logical link between being unfit to choose leaders or public policies and being a felon is tenuous, but also indistinguishable from any other condition, like lack of schooling, that could decrease fitness as a member of the body politic. The response is that felons are responsible for their misdeeds, but the truth of that assertion is an open question. The determinists in criminal justice argue a number of socioeconomic and other circumstantial factors like past brain damage influence criminals, who thus cannot be held completely “culpable” for their crimes.
Stated another way, restricting felons’ voting rights suppresses the voice of a group with distinct interests: convicted felons. Being barred from voting after leaving jail for, depending on the state, several years or even life seems harsh, particularly when what counts as a felony can be so broad. Many felons are convicted of nonviolent offenses. In Florida, which has more than a million disenfranchised felons, felonious offenses include disobeying a police officer.
One could imagine many uniquely “criminal” interests, like more emphasis on rehabilitation or less harsh sentencing laws. These concerns are important, particularly since it is commonly accepted in political capital theory that politicians have little incentive to appear “soft on crime.” No one wants to be haunted, like former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, by another Willie Horton-esque political fiasco. This issue is exacerbated by the scope of the problem: Approximately 5.8 million citizens are barred from voting because of convictions for serious crimes, about 2.2 million of whom are black.
The degree to which minority interests are skewed by disenfranchisement is too high. The constitution of the felon pool is a result of which people are convicted of felonies. However, while there will be exceptions, crimes can represent choices based on bad judgment or circumstances, particularly for criminals from poor or crime-ridden neighborhoods with failing schools. Leaving out a segment of the population after they have repaid their debts is unfair.