With 6 million people barred from voting due to current or past convictions, including 2.2 million African-Americans, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday made a bold appeal to push states to vary their laws to revive voting rights to those Americans.
In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Holder continued his efforts to reform the criminal justice system to figure better for African-Americans, like his plan to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and to improve drug sentencing laws that disproportionately punish Blacks.
About 1 in 13 African-American adults across the country banned from the polls—and as many as 1 in 5 in Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida, where a change within the laws would have allowed some 800,000 Floridians to choose the 2000 presidential election that George W. Bush won by 537 votes in Florida.
One 2002 study by scholars at Northwestern and University of Minnesota found that the disenfranchisement laws may have determined the result of seven Senate races and, thus, control of the Senate throughout the 1990s—in addition to the Bush-Gore election.
Eleven states restrict a felon’s voting rights after prison and after either probation or parole: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.
While Holder doesn’t have the facility to force these states to amend their laws, his use of the public office could cause reform.
“Whenever we tell citizens who have paid their debts and rejoined their communities that they’re not entitled to require part within the democratic process, we come short of the bedrock promise – of civil right and equal justice – that has always served because the foundation of our system ,” said Holder, in his speech.
Holder acknowledged that these laws go back to the late 1800s when lawmakers across the U.S. were pushing for legislation that might keep newly enfranchised African-Americans from voting.
“At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War discrimination,” he said. “And they need their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often supported exclusion, animus, and fear.”
“After all, at some point, 95 percent of all prisoners are going to be released. And even as we expect everyone who commits a criminal offense to pay their societal debts, we also expect them to stay sober and crime-free upon their release,” Holder said. “We expect them to urge jobs and find housing. and that we expect them to become productive, law-abiding members of society … there’s evidence to suggest that former prisoners whose voting rights restored are significantly less likely to return to the criminal justice system.”
“These restrictions aren’t only unnecessary and unjust, they’re also counterproductive,” he said. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they’re going to commit future crimes. They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies. … I call upon experts and legislators to face together in overturning an unfortunate and outdated established order . and that I call upon the American people – who overwhelmingly oppose felony disenfranchisement – to hitch us in bringing about the top of misguided policies that unjustly restrict what’s been called the ‘most basic right’ of yank citizenship.”
The efforts to vary the voting laws actually has some support among conservative Republicans, like party stalwarts Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who both spoke at the conference.
Paul said he considered it a “miscarriage of justice” that 1 in 3 Black men in his state, which has one among the harshest disenfranchisement policies, is banned from voting.
“People think conservative Republicans just want to place people in jail,” he said, consistent with published reports. “There are Republicans on our side who will work with Democrats who will do the proper thing on this.”
The NY Times acknowledged that us, the foremost prolific jailer within the industrialized world, is additionally an outlier in lifetime voting bans. Most industrialized nations allow all non-incarcerated people to vote — and lots of even allow voting in prison, consistent with the days.