The Obama administration and some conservative lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Rand Paul, are forging an unusual alliance to restore voting rights to ex-convicts.
In a speech Tuesday to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called it "time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.''
"Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans . . . are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions,'' Holder said, according to USA Today
"That's more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states, and although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.''
Though Holder acknowledged there 's not much he can do to change state laws, he pointed out that 23 states have done something about it — and gave a shout-out to Paul, USA Today reported.
"I applaud those who have already shown leadership in raising awareness and helping to address this issue,'' Holder said, adding about Paul: "His vocal support for restoring voting rights for former inmates shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines."
Holder noted that 11 states still keep ex-felons from voting; Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming, the Wall Street Journal
In Florida, the Journal reported, such laws prevent about one in 10 people from voting.
Holder called the disenfranchisement "not only too significant to ignore — it is also too unjust to tolerate.''
Paul noted of his own state that "one in three young black men are unable to vote because of a felony conviction, and they never get it back," The Journal reported.
"Now we're getting at least a minority of Republicans coming along on these issues,'' he said. "People think conservative Republicans just want to put people in jail . . . There are Republicans on our side who will work with Democrats who will do the right thing on this.''
After a prison population explosion that began in the 1980s, the Journal reported, both parties, for different reasons — the GOP primarily for fiscal reasons, the Democrats to address minority disparities — are now trying to bring the numbers down.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has yet to be convinced.
In an email to The Journal, Scott spokesman Frank Collins said Holder's speech "has no effect on Florida's Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote."
"This is a right that states exercise under the U.S. Constitution and their own respective constitutions," the email said, adding that ex-felons "who are truly remorseful for how they have wrecked families and want to earn back their right to vote" can try to have their rights restored.
Holder oddly praised former Virginia Gov.Bob McDonnell for moving to partly restore voting rights to just-released convicts; Holder's Justice Department last month indicted McDonnell and his wife
on charges of taking illegal gifts from a Virginia businessman.
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