In a column for the National Review on Tuesday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies proposed requiring formerly incarcerated people to pass what is essentially a literacy test in order to regain their right to vote.
Krikorian praised Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent veto of a bill expanding voting rights for ex-felons but added that conservatives should give “more thought” to the issue of reenfranchising formerly incarcerated people, who because of disparities in the criminal justice system are disproportionately African American.
His idea: requiring ex-felons to pass the same citizenship test in order to regain their right to vote that immigrants pass in order to become citizens:
[G]iven that such a large share of, especially, our black fellow citizens is formally disenfranchised because of past criminality, it behooves conservatives for both policy and political reasons to give the issue of re-enfranchisement more thought. One approach that might work as a policy matter in politically reintegrating those released felons who are interested — and also send a message of openness to the penitent — would be to follow the example of naturalization of immigrants.
While the reasons differ, both felons and resident foreigners are excluded from participation in political life. The way foreigners overcome this exclusion is by ceasing to be foreigners through acquisition of U.S. citizenship. They do this by passing a basic test (probably a little too basic) on U.S. history and civics and by demonstrating (in most cases) a basic ability to read, write, and understand English. Once they swear the Oath of Allegiance, they are enfranchised as citizens of the United States.
This process, he writes, would allow ex-felons “moral readmission to the political community” and show potential employers that those who have passed “might be a cut above the average ex-con”:
Following this model for released felons would have a number of benefits. It would send the message that re-enfranchisement is not merely a matter of paperwork but of a moral readmission to the political community. It would teach some elementary civics and history that the ex-cons probably never learned in school. And if accompanied by a certificate of some kind, it could signal to potential employers that the bearer might be a cut above the average ex-con.
But liberals won’t like his idea of reinstating literacy tests, Krikorian says, because “they don’t particularly like America” so they don’t want anybody learning civics:
The lefty groups pushing to accelerate and simplify re-enfranchisement won’t like this for at least two reasons: Their goal is electing more Democrats, pure and simple, and anything that might stand in the way is unacceptable. And more fundamentally, they don’t particularly like America, and requiring a victim of The Man to pass a history test not written by Howard Zinn is repellent.