Felons for cleanliness
People are always coming up with ideas about using convict labor for the public good. Some of these are better than others. (Was it the Farm Bureau that wanted to assign convicts to turpentine stray cats?)
Governor Mike Beebe has put forward a seemingly sound proposal. Offended by the trash that teems on Arkansas roadsides, Beebe wants to release prison inmates from confinement 30 to 60 days ahead of schedule so that they can pick up litter along the state's roads.
Arkansas has a massive litter problem, especially for one that calls itself “The Natural State” and boasts of its beauty. Beebe says that well-meaning but careless Arkansans throw empty fertilizer bags into the back of their pickups, not noticing when the bags blow out. More cynical observers suspect that some Arkansans just don't care that they're befouling their state, and may even believe there's a constitutional right to do so. Mild anti-litter statutes are on the books. They appear to have little effect, and probably should be strengthened.
In the meantime, Beebe's plan deserves a try. We'll suggest an addition. Put some of the cleanup crews to work at the highway rest stops that are such an embarrassment. Maybe the convicts won't be able to repair the out-of-order toilets and water fountains and vending machines, but they can at least report them. They surely can mop the floors and cover some of the worst graffiti and generally make the centers a little less frightening to tourists.
Let the people vote
The United States Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, has upheld an Indiana law requiring voters to show current government-sponsored photographic identification before they can cast a ballot. The Arkansas legislature rejected a similar bill last year. Proponents now say they'll try again, but their bill is no better and deserves no better fate.
In practice, “government-sponsored photo identification” means a driver's license or passport. The voters most likely to be lacking such documents are the elderly, the poor, blacks and Latinos. Uncoincidentally, these are people who tend to vote Democratic. Partisan advantage, not honest elections, is the purpose of these Republican-sponsored photo ID laws that get upheld by Republican-majority courts.
There's been no showing of widespread voter fraud on an individual basis in either Indiana or Arkansas. Fraud at the wholesale level, involving voting machines and election officials, is more likely and may well have occurred in the last two presidential elections. If reform of voting procedures is needed, that's the place to start.