WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder called on a group of states Tuesday to restore voting rights to ex-felons, part of a push to fix what he sees as flaws in the criminal justice system that have a disparate effect on racial minorities.
It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision, Holder said, targeting 11 states that he said continue to restrict voting rights for former inmates.
Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions, Holder said.
Now into his fifth year as attorney general and hinting that this year might be his last, Holder has survived political controversies that, early on, placed him on the defensive. Now, he is doubling down on issues that have long held his interest during a career in law enforcement – prison overcrowding, overly harsh mandatory drug sentences and school disciplinary policies that he says push kids into street crime.
Congress used to be the place that highlighted Holder’s problems, including a plan to try terrorists in New York City and the failed Justice Department investigation of gun smuggling in Arizona that ended in the death of a border patrol agent.
Now, Holder is talking about collaborating with conservative lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who shares concerns such as mandatory minimum prison sentences that can put away low-level drug offenders for decades.
The 11 states identified as restricting voting rights of former inmates are Arizona, Florida, Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Wyoming, Tennessee and Virginia.
In Indiana, felons aren’t allowed to vote while incarcerated but get that right back when released from prison.