Yes, it's true that five Southern states did enact anti-felon voting statutes from 1890 to 1910. But, as Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity has noted, these much-cited examples were lagging indicators. More than 80% of the states already had such laws on the books. And those five Southern states repealed the laws in question a while ago. Meanwhile, many of the states that have the strictest anti-felon statutes aren't in the South.
Another red herring, for some, is the contention that this is all about felons who've paid their debt to society. The truth is that many activists on this issue want currently serving criminals to vote too.
Should felons be allowed to vote? Maybe. If you believe in federalism, then there's no reason why this shouldn't be left to the states, which is where I'm fine leaving it, along with gay marriage and almost every other issue. But as a matter of principle, I oppose voting by ex-cons because voting should be harder, not easier -- for everybody.
Of course, Marion Barry and Hillary Clinton see things differently. The principle behind Clinton's proposed legislation -- which would make voting easier for criminals and noncriminals alike -- is that the nation's democracy is "enriched" when more people vote.