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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Atty. Gen. Holder joins bipartisan effort to restore voting rights to ex-felons

Eric Holder

CNN: One of Washington’s oddities of late is Attorney General Eric Holder’s liberal social justice goals finding unity with the tea party movement’s curb-big-government proposals led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee.

On Tuesday, the alliance is on display as Holder, for the first time as attorney general, calls for states to automatically restore voting rights to prisoners who are disenfranchised upon conviction. Paul, who supports voter ID laws Holder has sought to block, has pushed to overturn disenfranchisement laws that he says affect too many black men.

Holder, Paul and Lee are pushing to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system, seeking to discard mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes and reduce costly prison spending. The three are appearing Tuesday at a Georgetown Law School forum sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“Eleven U.S. states restrict or completely deny voting rights to prisoners even after they’ve completed sentences, probation and parole,” the report goes on. “Florida, among the most restrictive, bars 10% of its population from voting as a result of such laws. About 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions, Holder says.”

The laws hurt African-Americans disproportionately, since our criminal justice system is rife with institutional racism and sentences are grotesquely distorted by class privilege. According to report, this means that “nearly one in 13 black adults across the US” are denied their right to vote because of a past felony conviction.

It’s a bit of a mystery why Lee and Paul want to address this issue, since even acknowledging it knocks out a leg supporting the GOP’s War on Voting. Republicans have had a difficult time finding cases of voter fraud to support their push for voter ID. And a very large proportion of those they do find are a result of these laws. A guy is sentenced in Wisconsin, for instance, where voting rights are restored and later moves to Florida, where they’re stripped. He tries to vote and finds out he can’t — oops! That’s technically “voter fraud,” despite the fact that there was no intent to defraud anyone. If felons’ franchise are restored, a massive chunk of their already meager collection of “voter fraud” stories evaporates.

Still, give them credit for wanting to do the right thing. Stripping the right to vote from felons for life is meant to capitalize on the criminal justice system’s racist bent, in order to suppress minority voting. The sooner this tactic dies, the better for democracy.

[photo via U.S. Department of Agriculture]

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