Politicians will do just about anything to avoid talking about certain subjects. Like, for instance, when a domestic terrorist uses convenient lies about Planned Parenthood that were perpetuated by politicians as possible justification to kill three and wound nine. Obviously, no politician who had any part in propagating those lies is going to want to admit they screwed up. So what do they do?
If you’re Ted Cruz, you deflect all criticism by saying the Democrats are the real fans of violent offenders.
As Politico reports:
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, the Texas senator said that “the simple and undeniable fact is the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.”
Cruz said Democrats fight for convicted felons to be able to vote.
“There’s a reason why the Democrats for years have been viewed as soft on crime,” Cruz said. “The Democrats know convicted felons tend to vote Democrat.”
The jab was very transparently an attempt to dodge questions about his anti-abortion rhetoric and his own culpability in an act of terrorism, but let’s play ball, anyway. Is Cruz’s criticism fair?
Yes, Democrats do frequently favor extending voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time. This position is not an attempt to earn votes so much as it is a civil rights issue. Breaking the law does not invalidate your citizenship; it demands payment of debt. Once paid, many of these still-citizens are stripped of their voting rights in states across the country.
The Constitution presents a convoluted take on whether or not these laws are appropriate. Technically, the 14th Amendment allows — but does not require — voting rights to be abridged for individuals who have participated in a crime. The 15th amendment, however, states that the right to vote may not be “denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Some argue that, given the current state of the for-profit prison labor system, the completion of a sentence could be considered a previous condition of servitude. And it wouldn’t be the first time a later amendment changed the interpretation of one prior. For instance, once women were guaranteed the right to vote in the 19th amendment, the 14th amendment’s language pertaining to “male citizens” became understood as “citizens” absent a gender codification.
So there’s a Constitutional argument to be made here, but unfortunately it’s one that the current Court hasn’t bought. They did, however, in 2013’s racial mess of a decision in Shelby County v. Holder, affirm the state’s ability to govern elections within their borders. 20 states have at least marginally reasonable laws on felon voting, with the most restrictive of the bunch saying that convicts who are not in prison or out on parole or probation may still vote, and several saying any citizen can vote regardless of convictions or imprisonment. Democrats frequently push for the other 30 states to follow suit.
But this is where Cruz’s attempted association of violent offenders with Democrats falls flat — this is not a true blue issue. Of those 20 states, at least 7 can safely be characterized as generally conservative states, with some a deep shade of red. The effort to restore voting rights for convicts is actually bipartisan at the federal level. This isn’t a party line issue. It’s a question of justice, and every now and then, party affiliation comes second to that principle.
Still, do such efforts benefit Democrats disproportionately anyway, as Cruz claims? There might be a slight advantage for Dems, but not in the way Cruz insists. As Leon Neyfakh explains at Slate, while part of what Cruz implies is true, the rest of his argument doesn’t hold water:
Empirical research on felon voting patterns supports this assumption, in some ways.One study of voter registration records showed that among ex-felons in New York, about 62 percent were registered as Democrats, compared to just 9 percent who were registered as Republicans. In New Mexico the breakdown was 52 percent vs. 19 percent, and in North Carolina it was 43 percent vs. 31 percent.
But it’s far from clear that enfranchising ex-felons would be a slam-dunk for Democrats. For one thing, very few ex-felons tend to vote even in places where they’re allowed to do so, which means adding more of them to the rolls isn’t likely to affect electoral outcomes except in extremely close races. Furthermore, argues Northwestern University political scientist Traci Burch, while it’s true that black felons tend to support Democrats, their white counterparts are much more likely to vote Republican, especially in certain states.
So let’s sum it up. Yes, Democrats generally support allowing felons to vote. So do Republicans. Allowing felons to vote doesn’t have any major impact on electoral outcomes. Pushes for those changes are in pursuit of justice, not swinging elections.
In other words, Cruz’s attempted dig is little more than an ill-supported whine that spotlights yet another part of his ignorance, and it’s certainly not enough to make us forget that his kind of religious hate speech may have formed the foundation of a terrorist’s justification for attacking people in a Planned Parenthood.