Bullets of Ballots?

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Mar 6, 1948 

Bullets of Ballots?

Now that the government has decided to disfranchise the universities may I suggest that there is another very large group of electors still worthier of disenfranchisement?

I mean the convicted criminals who have paid their fines of served their sentences.

In the present state of the law, unless I am mistaken, a burglar, a forger or a food adulterator, as soon as he has served his sentence, is presumed to be magically transformed into a good citizen as capable as any other citizen of choosing the right government for his country.

He may have been proved to be on the the most anti-social of living men; yet he is given a vote which enables him to take part in deciding the fate of the society in which he lives.

Surely, if the vote is such a precious thing as is suggested by the struggle men and women have made to achieve it, is a privilege which ought not to be lightly granted to people who have been found guilty of torturing children, or of driving motor-cars when drunk and maiming, or even killing, better citizens than themselves.

It may be argued that the criminal, having paid the penalty of his crime, has wiped out his offence and should be given a chance to start again with a clean sheet. One might as well argue that the criminal motorist, having paid a fine or gone to prison, should not be disqualified from driving as a further punishment.

It seems to me that, if it is right to disqualify a criminally bad motorist from driving, it is equally right to disqualify criminally bad citizens from voting.

Other people may argue that the thing is not worth doing—that the convicted criminals are so few in proportion to the masses of voters that they are unlikely to decide the result of any election.

Even if this were so, the argument for disenfranchisement would remain. The disenfranchisement of the man who is guilty of anti-social crimes would be an affirmation by the nation that the possession of a vote is a right only on those who recognize and practice their duty as social beings.

As for the influence of convicted criminals on elections I do not know how many of them are at present on the register. They must number very many thousands, however, and every day adds to the list of young and old people appearing in the courts, who seem never to have heard of the commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”

It is quite conceivable that the result of an election—or even of a good many elections—might be decided by the votes of the thieves of many kinds whom modern education had been unable to turn into good citizens.

After all, many an election has been decided by fewer than 100 votes.

As to whether the penalty of disenfranchisement would be a deterrent from crime, it is hard to say. A judge to whom I recently talked on the matter gave it as his opinion that it would. One can imagine its having some influence on such law breakers as those who, in the past year or so, have been found guilty of currency offences.

The prospect of being ostracized from one of the chief rights of citizenship might have made them realize how shameful a thing it is to betray one’s country even to the extent of a few hundred pounds. And the sense of shame is one of the most important influences on the human character.

Apart from this, human beings seem to love having votes, even if they do not trouble to use them when they get them. Many years ago I sat through the proceedings at a couple of registration courts in Manchester and I was astonished at the eagerness with which people pursued their claims to be on the register.

Still it is a matter of principle, rather than because of any deterrent effect it might have, that I advocate the disenfranchisement of bad citizens—disenfranchisement for a period of 10, 20 or 30 years or for life according to the nature of the crime. The possession of a vote would then be regarded as a certificate of good citizenship (or of citizenship not yet proved to have been bad.)

Perhaps Sir Alan Herbert or W. J. Brown or some other independent M.P. will take the matter up now that the criminal justice bill is under discussion. If the plural voter is to be abolished, surely the criminal voter is an even greater blot on the constitution of a democracy.


More on ROBERT LYND: https://robertlynd.wordpress.com/about/


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