Krikorian: Convicts should pass test to regain voting rights

Imagine2050 Staff • Jun 03, 2015

By Lindsay Schubiner and Aaron Flanagan

Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian proposed that citizens convicted of a felony should be required to pass a test before regaining the right to vote, much like immigrants seeking to become citizens must pass a test to naturalize.

Krikorian’s piece, published on May 26 at the National Review Online, highlights the shared threat from the right wing that targets immigrant communities and black communities alike, often placing black immigrants in an extraordinarily vulnerable position.

Not surprisingly, Krikorian is once again letting his bigotry show.

Krikorian push for integration unclear

Krikorian writes that conservatives should “give the issue of re-enfranchisement more thought,” given that  “a large share of… our black fellow citizens [are] formally disenfranchised because of past criminality.” In fact, the disproportionate disenfranchisement of black citizens based on felony convictions results from many causes, including the criminalization of black communities, poverty and lack of opportunity due to structural racism, police enforcement disproportionately targeting black communities, and more. One thing you won’t see on this list, however, is a greater incidence of “criminality” among black communities, an openly racist assertion which Krikorian falsely implies is the cause of disproportionate felony disenfranchisement.

Krikorian also suggests that society must “politically [reintegrate] those released felons who are interested,” but the reader is left to guess exactly what they must integrate into. (If history is any guide, we must imagine that reintegration may be a moving target of white cultural norms intended to continue to deny rights to people of color while dividing communities of color based on respectability politics.) Yet Krikorian’s focus on reintegration is merely a distraction from the real issue: racially biased laws and systems in our society that disproportionately deny black people the right to vote. In order to politically reintegrate disenfranchised people, our government must, by definition, simply give them the right to vote.

Krikorian’s advocacy for a world in which civil rights are not guaranteed for immigrants and people of color goes hand-in-hand with the establishment (or expansion) of a racialized underclass denied rights and made vulnerable to exploitation.

Next, Krikorian takes the reader on a trip back in time to explore the uses of more explicit racial barriers to voting. He seems determined to take the first step toward bringing poll taxes and literacy tests back from the history books.

Krikorian writes that requiring citizens previously convicted of a felony to pass a civics test before voting “would send the message that re-enfranchisement is not merely a matter of paperwork but of a moral readmission to the political community.” Again, this language is smoke and mirrors designed to disguise what would likely be a costly process (think poll tax) designed to disenfranchise people of color based on a biased test (think literacy test).

Of course, there is no reason to build additional barriers to civil rights for people of color who have already completed their sentence under a discriminatory and, by many accounts, out of control carceral system — except the desire to continue to exclude people of color from participation in the political system. Ultimately, many people may never enroll in this process of “moral readmission,” but those who do would likely be submitting to a humiliating process of forced penitence for a crime for which they have already served time.

Notably, Krikorian has some experience in implementing his vision for a “moral readmission to the political community.” He volunteered teaching civics classes for green card holders at Catholic Charities — that is, until he was fired after the Washington Post published a feature length story on him.

Krikorian’s advocacy for a world in which civil rights are not guaranteed for immigrants and people of color goes hand-in-hand with the establishment (or expansion) of a racialized underclass denied rights and made vulnerable to exploitation.

Anti-immigrant attacks on voting rights reach Supreme Court

Frighteningly, Krikorian is not the only one attacking voting rights from the anti-immigrant movement.

Just this week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case intended to undermine the voting power of immigrant and Latino communities. This case could change the way voting districts are measured and effectively eliminate from the political system entire communities of non-voting immigrants, children, and individuals disenfranchised via criminal records.

The anti-immigrant movement has long sought to erode civil rights for many by targeting immigrants and their communities. They are once again bringing citizens who are people of color into their sights in a play to further consolidate white-majority political power. This should not be a surprise, given that the anti-immigrant movement was founded by white nationalist John Tanton, but it remains outrageous.

A threat this immense will require a strong, united response to preserve existing civil rights and to build toward an increasingly inclusive vision of racial justice.

Lindsay Schubiner is the Senior Program Manager at the Center for New Community. Aaron Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.

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