Can Felons Vote?

The following is a 4/12/2020 email from Matthew D. Hutcheson (in prison) to his family. It answers the question.

Very interesting!

© 2020 Matthew D. Hutcheson

Dear Fam,

Well, we have entered our second week of quarantine. Technically, we are supposed to be confined to our rooms. The problem is that the phones, email, library and other necessities are elsewhere in the unit. So, inmates refuse to stay in their rooms. It is essentially an all-out rebellion, but there have been no severe fights (yet). Tension levels are growing, though, because no one is permitted outside. 

Changing the subject, Lee shared with me the most tender story, and I re-share it with you with his permission. 

Last week, Lee’s 96-year-old father-in-law (WWII Hero Vet) asked him about the message he (Lee) had recently seen online from his pastor, Steve Holt. His sermon was on humility being the cardinal virtue. The conversation went like this:

Dee: How did the online presentation go?

Lee: Oh, it was magnificent. Steve hit it out of the park again. 

Dee: What was it about?

Lee: It was about humility being the cardinal virtue. 

Dee: What is virtue?

Lee: It is the goodness of a human being, those attributes which make a man or woman affect the lives of others for the better. 

Dee: I think virtue means the character of someone who is convicted of a crime he did not commit, going to prison an innocent man, not becoming resentful or bitter, continuing to be a great husband and father, and actually rising above it all to thrive, lead, and inspire others for the better, under impossible obstacles. It is what virtue looks like to me.

Lee: (With a lump in his throat), That is exactly right! You hit the nail right on the head! That is virtue!

***

When Lee shared that story with me, my eyes filled and I had a lump in my throat, too. How could such a touching comment not have that effect on someone? I wanted to share it to memorialize for my grandchildren that they may know who their grandpa was/is.

You might find it interesting to know how the word “virtue” has been defined by others over the ages.

The Greek and Roman philosophers called “virtue” the “mean between the extremes.”

The Founding Fathers defined “virtue” as “excellence.”

Those of the Victorian age defined “virtue” as “chastity.”

***

Changing the subject once again, I would like to share a recent interesting conversation.

This week, a group of about 30 inmates was in the common area, where the TVs, ice machines, pool tables, and corrlinks computers are. I was listening to a conversation between several inmates and the camp officer about the lockdown, quarantine, COVID-19 in general, and the upcoming election. A somewhat heated argument broke out about what would happen if President Trump died from the COVID virus. Who would succeed him as president, and who succeeds that person, and so on? 

Then, the discussion evolved into the electoral college and whether inmates can vote after serving their sentences.

It was a conversation worth memorializing, so I immediately wrote it down. 

The conversation went as follows as I sat at the corrlinks computer typing an email: 

(Names have been changed)

***

Inmate Smith: What would happen if President Trump died from corona?

Inmate Jones: The U.S. Secretary of State would become the president.

Inmate Mays: That’s not true. The Vice President succeeds him.

Jones: That’s not true. I am 100% certain it is the Secretary of State. 

Johnson: Then why did Lyndon B. Johnson become president after JFK was assassinated?

Jones: Silence. 

Johnson: Yeah, and Teddy Roosevelt after McKinley? 

Jones: How do you know that?

Smith: There’s Hutch. Let’s ask him.

Jones: Don’t ask Hutch. Leave him out of this conversation. (I heard him ask to keep me out of conversation.)

Johnson: Hey Hutch!

Me: Hi fellas. What’s up?

Johnson: Who becomes president if the elected president dies?

Me: The Vice President. 

Mays: I told you. 

Me: The first three in the line of presidential succession are elected officials.

Johnson: Name them. 

Me: The Vice President (Mike Pence), the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi), the President Pro Tempore (Chuck Grassley), which is Latin for “temporary president” – “Tempore” is pronounced “tem-pour-ay” but most people colloquially pronounce it “tem-pour-ee.” Remember, the Vice President is the actual president of the Senate, so the Senate Pro Tempore serves as acting president.

Smith: Who are the others?

Me: The others are all non-elected. They are appointed by the President and serve as secretaries, or in other words, chiefs over an executive branch department or agency. A federal “department” or “agency” is essentially the same thing, and its professional full-time employees constitute a “bureaucracy.” So, the Secretary of State, which is what I think Jones meant, is the first non-elected official in the line of presidential succession. 

Jones: Yes, that’s what I meant!

Me: I’ll break it down for you. 

Secretary of State = protection of relationships with other nations. 

Secretary of Treasury = protection of and control over the America’s money.

Secretary of Defense = protection of American citizens from aggressive foreign governments or other actors.

Attorney General (Secretary of Justice) = protection against crime; justice after crime.

Secretary of Interior = protection of America’s natural resources. 

Secretary of Agriculture = protection of America’s farmers; protection of consumers of agricultural products.

Secretary of Commerce = protection of free trade. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services = protection of access to and quality of health care services.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development = protection of fair and equal access to housing.

Secretary of Transportation = protection of and/or improving roads, rails, air travel infrastructure, traveler safety.

Secretary of Energy = protection natural energy sources; regulation of access to energy sources.

Secretary of Education = protection of quality of public education.

Secretary of Veteran Affairs = protection of retired military; assistance in health care, home ownership, education, etc. 

Secretary of Homeland Security = protection from nonconventional threats abroad (like terrorism, cyber attacks, etc.).

Smith: Whoa, that is a lot of information! Who decides where a cabinet secretary falls in the line of succession?

Me: The order is based upon when the cabinet position was first created. When the United States was newly formed, the first position created by George Washington was the Secretary of State. It was an appointment accepted and filled by Thomas Jefferson. 

Smith: What happens if all of the successors were to die at the same time?

Me: The House of Representatives would elect a speaker. The speaker would then immediately advance to the presidency.

Johnson: Fascinating! I also want to how the electoral college works. 

Smith: And I would like to know why felons are not permitted to vote. That has always bothered me. 

Me: Alright. Looking at Johnson, I said, “Would it be alright if I explained the electoral college first?”

Johnson: Sure

Me: The political parties of each state identify potential electors from each political party. Depending on how the election is structured (each state administers its own election) voters either vote for an elector directly, or the state considers a vote for a presidential candidate to be a vote for that party’s electors. The number of electors directly corresponds to the number of members of the United States Congress elected from that state. Remember, congress consists of two chambers: The House of Representatives and the Senate. So, in Colorado, there are 7 members of the House of Representatives. There are two United States Senators, as there are two from every other state. That makes 9, which means this November there will be 9 electors in Colorado. If a Republican candidate wins, then the 9 electors will be the Republican ones. If a Democrat wins, the electors will be the Democrat ones. The electors will vote together in a bloc. 

Johnson: How many TOTAL United States electors are there?

Me: Well, let us count them. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. That number has not changed since 1929. There are 100 Senators. That number has not changed since 1787 when the Constitution was adopted as the framework of government for the United States of America. 

Johnson: That makes 535 electors!

Me: But don’t forget the three electors granted to the District of Columbia. 

Johnson: So that makes 538 electors?

Me: Right!  On January 6 following the states’ election for president, the state electors appear before congress and announce which candidate received which state elector votes. 

Johnson: Always on January 6 following the election?

Me: Always. The candidate who received a majority of elector votes, or at least 270, will become president.

Johnson: Where did the electors come from, anyway? Whose big idea was that?

Me: The electoral college, or the group of electors, is a provision within the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 1. It is a safety counter-balance to make sure small, but densely populated areas (such as New York City) do not have a distorting and disproportionate effect on an election outcome. If not for the electoral college, a half dozen states could determine the outcome in a presidential election based on population alone and no one else in the United States would have a say. It would be as though the votes in the other, say 44 states, did not matter at all. 

Entire group (including officer): Listening intently.

Me: The electoral college ensures that the outcome in every state is fairly represented in the final, ultimate outcome.

Johnson: Fascinating!

Me: There have been five elections in which the winner of the popular vote did not become president because the other candidate had more electoral votes. 

Johnson: Name one example. 

Me: Well, take the last election in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump won in an electoral college landslide. There were four other such instances, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 (Bush v Gore).

Johnson: Thanks. Awesome. 

Me: May I change the subject to Smith’s complaint about why felons are not permitted to vote?

Johnson: Of course. 

Me: When I was at FCI Safford, I was taken on a road trip to visit a physician. While on that trip, one of the guards said, in essence, “It’s kind of a bummer you will never be able to vote again.” 

I asked him, “Why do you say that?” 

He said, “Because you are a felon. Felons can’t vote in a federal election.”

I said, “Neither can you.”

The guard was stunned. He did not know what you say, except for, “What do you mean by that?”

Continuing, I said, “There is no such thing as a federal election.”

Crickets. He had no idea what I was talking about. 

I went on to explain that one of the most tragic “tricks” ever perpetrated upon a large segment of Americans is the statement that a felon cannot vote in a federal election. It is what I call a “true lie.”

It is true because there is NO SUCH THING AS A FEDERAL ELECTION. THERE NEVER HAS BEEN SUCH A THING. IT IS TRUE THAT NO ONE CAN VOTE IN ONE. There are, instead 50 STATE elections. Each state has its own election laws and criteria. Each state’s Secretary of State administers the election. For example, all ballots come from the Secretary of State, therefore it is the Secretary of State who is the gatekeeper. If the Secretary of State says a felon can vote, he or she can. Period. 

I explained it to the guard and he was dumbfounded. This “true lie” was a trick against those who do not understand the political system. The “true lie” has become anchored in the minds of Americans as immutable truth. But it is not true that felons are unable to vote. He or she may vote for president in a STATE election if his or her Secretary of State permits it based on that state’s election laws. 

There are over 70 million Americans who have some form of criminal record, and almost all of them believe, falsely, they are not permitted to vote. It is a tragedy.

It is also false that those 70 million Americans would automatically vote Democrat. Believe me, most of them understand now what the Democrats are all about. They want to be empowered and to be free, not victims and dependent upon government. 

So, back to our recent discussion with Smith, Jones, Mays, Johnson, and the others. 

Me: (To Smith) Did I answer your question?

Smith: Yes, absolutely! I am blown away! I had no idea that I have been told a lie for so long. I actually believed it! 

Me: Well, you have been told a truth, but one that is misleading. There is no such thing as a federal election. There are only state elections. You may vote if the Secretary of your state says that you can vote. Two states (Maine/Vermont) allow inmates to vote while incarcerated. Thirty seven states let felons vote immediately, or soon after release. The other eleven states have varying rules or restrictions. Study it when you can. 

Smith: Amazing. Thank you. 

Me: Glad I could help.

Jones: Hey, um…I’m sorry for what I said earlier. 

Me: No worries, bro. Upon release, go home, and vote!

Jones: I will!

© 2020 Matthew D. Hutcheson

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