Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. called on states Tuesday to end laws that prohibit convicted felons from voting, a move seen as politically savvy given studies that show most felons would support Democrats.
The symbolic call – Holder has no authority to make such changes himself – comes amid recent efforts by the attorney general to get rid of laws he believes negatively impact minorities in a disproportionate manner, The New York Times reported.
“It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values,” Mr. Holder said at civil rights conference at Georgetown University. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”
The Sentencing Project, a liberal research group that supports loosening voting restrictions, said African-Americans make up about one-third of the 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans do not have the right to vote, the Times said.
Holder claims that current laws barring felons from voting stemmed from the 1800s as a result of states attempting to prevent blacks from voting.
“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,” he said.
Almost all states prohibit felons and other inmates from casting ballots. In four states, felons are barred for life; those states are Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia. For a felon to be able to vote in those states, they must receive clemency from the governor.
Some states restore voting rights after prison sentences are completed, while still others have waiting periods. In some states, it is a complicated process for convicted felons to re-register to vote.
Two states - Maine and Vermont - already allow felons to vote from prison, according to ProCon.org, a group which tracks the issue. “Felon voting has not been regulated federally although some argue that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be applied to felon disenfranchisement and that Congress has the authority to legislate felon voting in federal elections,” the group says on its website.
Analysts see Holder’s motives as at least partly motivated by political interests.
“Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans,” the Times reported. “In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election ‘would almost certainly have been reversed’ had felons been allowed to vote.”