Jack Kemp: Ex-Felons Should Have Voting Rights

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Should felons be allowed to vote once they've served their time? Absolutely, says former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp. Ed Gordon talks with Kemp about why he thinks ex-felons deserve a place at the polls.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Congressional hearings have just started, but renewing the Voting Rights Act has already stirred a heated debate. Last week, a House judiciary subcommittee weighed in on whether or not felons should be allowed the right to vote. One advocate for restoring the vote to ex-felons is Jack Kemp, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Bob Dole's running mate in the 1996 presidential race.

Secretary, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Mr. JACK KEMP (Former Secretary, HUD): Thank you.

GORDON: Well, we should note that--and we talked about this on the program last week, there are hearings going on looking at the Voting Rights Act and extensions to part of it, and you raised some eyebrows, quite frankly, during one of these hearings last week when you talked about--that voting rights should be, in fact, restored to ex-felons. Talk to me about your belief there.

Mr. KEMP: Well, it shouldn't raise any eyebrows. Voting in America is the quintessential part of our democracy, and once a felon has paid his or her time and is no longer under any charges, in my opinion, should be given the incentive for civilized behavior by restoring the right to vote. Several states have taken it away. Some states give it back. I think there should be federal legislation. President Carter and President Ford studied this issue a number of years ago and came to the very same conclusion. I was asked the question after defending my--or I should say supporting an extension of the Voting Rights Act here on the anniversary of its passage in 1965--I was asked the question, do I think that an ex-convict who has done time, paid their dues, so to speak, and meet all the conditions that society has imposed upon them for punishment for a crime, should they be allowed to vote? And I said under those conditions, yes. So the hearings are going to go on. They're going to discuss this, and I said unambiguously I favored giving them a chance to restore their normal civilized life.

GORDON: You also talked about how this affects the African-American community disproportionately since African-Americans are disproportionately charged with felonies.

Mr. KEMP: Yeah. Well, I was making the point that in Florida, there were 600 to 700,000 people who were denied a chance to participate in the 2000 elections who were ex-convicts, ex-felons who paid their dues, served their time, met all the conditions of probation, and a majority of them were African-American. And let's face it. Voting registration in the past was used by some to deny African-Americans their right to vote, and this country has an obligation in the 21st century to, I think, remove every single impediment to every American having the right to vote and every American having his or her vote count.

GORDON: All right. Secretary Jack Kemp, thanks so very much for spending time with us today.

Mr. KEMP: All right. Thank you. Appreciate your attention to this subject.

GORDON: Again, that was former Republican vice presidential candidate and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp.

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