Broken social contract? Say, `Bye-bye, vote'

February 09, 2002|By Gregory Kane

TODAY, CLASS, our civics lesson will cover the difference between a republic and a democracy.

First, we begin with Webster's New World Dictionary definition of both.

Republic: a political order in which the supreme power is held by a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them.

Democracy: government exercised either directly by the people or through elected representatives.

You will notice, class, that there's a difference between the two. In a democracy, everybody votes. Democracies can lead to mob rule, what writer Alexis de Tocqueville referred to as a "tyranny of the majority."

In a republic, not everybody votes. Rule of the mob is to be avoided. There are checks and balances to prevent the tyranny of the majority. One way members of a republic exercise such checks and balances is restricting who can and cannot vote.

This nation is a republic, not a democracy. That distinction has been lost, however, on those now clamoring to give ex-felons the right to vote.

The clamorers know who they are: the usual gaggle of leftists who have nothing better to do with their time. On Thursday, some of them testified in Annapolis in support of the bill sponsored by Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore Democrat, that would restore voting rights to those who have been convicted of two felonies or "infamous crimes."

Maryland, the clamorers contend, is one of those states that spends way too much time picking on poor, oppressed, downtrodden, misunderstood, sweet, lovable, always-kind-to-their-mommies criminals. We lock them away for their transgressions and then, if they get caught at it a second time, take their voting rights away.

Let's bring the leftists back for a second from the alternate universe of their making that they visit all too often. In the real world, jail time serves, ideally, as a deterrent. It's a harsh environment designed to straighten you out the first time you go there.

If you go to prison once, then get out and commit a crime that sends you there again, doesn't society have the right to question your intelligence? Don't the law-abiding citizens who never commit serious crimes have the right to say, "Listen, you've spent far too much time getting in touch with your inner idiot. We can't trust you to vote. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever"?

Sen. Andrew P. Harris of Baltimore County is a Republican in the State House. By definition, that means he, along with other Republican legislators, has the job of restoring sanity to the overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic House and Senate.

Harris sees the voting rights for ex-felons issue differently. It's not that twice-convicted felons don't have the judgment to vote, Harris believes. He sees it as a matter of obligations.

"Taking away a felon's voting rights says that person has broken a contract with society," Harris said. The society then has the offender make amends in stages.

"The first stage is prison," Harris continued. "The second is parole and the third is restoring voting rights." But Harris says the restoration shouldn't be across the board. Restoration of voting rights "should be done on a case-by-case basis," Harris said, "just like parole."

Harris believes those ex-felons who have sincerely changed "and have re-established their contract with society" should have their voting rights restored.

"There were people who testified who should have had their voting rights back a long time ago," Harris said. But he said the restoration process is already in place. It should start, Harris asserts, in the governor's office.

"The governor has clear power to grant a partial pardon," Harris said. Ex-felons can petition the governor, ask for such a pardon and have their voting rights restored.

The clamorers won't favor that, of course. Their goal isn't so much the restoration of voting rights for an individual ex-felon who may have reformed and is now a viable, contributing member of society. Their goal is a blanket restoration that would include the guy who would stick up a McDonald's on Election Day and then head to the polls while making his getaway.

It's all about moving from a republic to a democracy. Question the voting-rights-for-ex-felons advocates closely and you'll find they probably want the Electoral College abolished as well. The Electoral College, they'll tell you, isn't democratic.

Darned right it isn't. It wasn't meant to be. The Electoral College is a check and balance to guard against the decision of a stupid electorate. Anyone who thinks it's not valid need only remember what Maryland's goofy voters did in 1972, right after the racist, bigoted presidential candidate George Wallace was wounded the day before the Maryland primary.

Wallace won in a landslide, courtesy of folks voting with their hearts, not their heads. The clamorers had best ponder what might have happened had he been shot four years earlier just before the tight three-way general presidential election without the Electoral College as a safeguard.

We're a republic, class, with all the checks and balances that come with it. We should be glad for that.

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