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Letting Ex-Felons Vote Doesn't Matter (Except When It Does)

Conservatives often complain that restoring former felons’ voting rights swings elections for Democrats.
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(AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)

The conventional wisdom on felony disenfranchisement laws is that they hurt the Democratic Party. The logic: A lot of the people locked up are black, and a lot of black people tend to vote for Democratic candidates. When Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe decided to restore the voting rights for people with past felony convictions last August, Donald Trump called it “crooked politics” at a rally in Rhode Island: “They’re giving 200,000 people that have been convicted of heinous crimes, horrible crimes, the worst crimes, the right to vote because, you know what? They know they’re gonna vote Democrat,” he said. “That’s how disgusting and dishonest our political system is.”

The belief that restoring voting rights to ex-offenders would benefit the political left and their urban power base is a common one among conservatives, but a group of economists who recently examined the issue was unable to find much proof to support it. In their study, “The Voting Rights of Ex-Felons and Election Outcomes in the United States,” released March 17, economics professors Tilman Klumpp of the University of Alberta, Hugo M. Mialon of Emory University, and Michael A. Williams of the research firm Competition Economics wrote: