Felons Deserve Voting Rights Back

Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, wants states to roll back laws that prevent people who have been convicted of a felony from voting.

Speaking this week at Georgetown University Law Center, Holder called the restrictions "unnecessary, unjust and counterproductive."

"It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed," he said.

"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, the laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder told the conference Feb. 11.

Of course, Holder's statement is more symbolic than anything. The federal government has no power to force states' hands on the subject of restoring voting rights to felons. And, even less so with the June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Shelby County, Ala. v. Eric Holder that nullified much of the USDOJ's power to block discriminatory state voting laws.

The effect of the ruling was that states, such as Mississippi, that had proposed such controversial regulations as voter-ID requirements could implement those changes. Under the guidance of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi moved forward and literature Hosemann's office has started distributing announcing the official start of voter ID for the June congressional primaries.

Voter ID was, and remains, a political hot potato. In all likelihood, restoring voting rights to convicted felons would garner significantly less political support, perhaps even from some of the advocates who opposed voter ID.

This is a particularly complex issue for Mississippi. Not only was Mississippi included among the states required to get "pre-clearance," or federal approval of each and every change to its voting changes—everything from moving polling places to redistricting—but Mississippi also has the nation's second-highest incarceration rate, behind neighboring Louisiana.

Holder, the first African American federal AG serving under the nation's first black president, commented on the link between incarceration and voting, pointing out that the practice of felon disenfranchisement dates back to the 19th century and was designed to keep African Americans from participating in the political process.

"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," Holder said.

Recently, Hosemann and Gov. Phil Bryant proclaimed February as Voter Registration Month.

Bryant called voting "our most important right." We applaud the governor for recognizing that voting is a right, not a privilege. As lawmakers consider the prison-reform legislation that passed the state House of Representative on Monday, we hope that policymakers follow Holder's advice and allow citizens to vote when their sentences have concluded.


Comments

Scott1962 10 months, 1 week ago

Convicted felons are not allowed to vote because they have proven to society that they cannot be trusted. I doubt very seriously that overturning that would have any impact whatsoever on the final polls but it's still ridiculous. I realize there are exceptions but your basic felon isn't someone I would think is willing to stand in line to cast a vote just as anyone who has never been responsible enough to obtain a valid ID isn't.

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thomas82601 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, just give him the option and let's see. Even so, that should be a fundamental right that every citizen should have at their disposal.

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RonniM 10 months, 1 week ago

Scott, Your "trust" allegation doesn't stand up. It's like saying divorced people shouldn't be allowed to marry again, entrepreneurs shouldn't have another chance because they went bankrupt, or women who give birth to disabled children should be sterilized--because, well, they might do it again.

Society rarely continues to punish people once they have "paid their debt," or bars rights to those who fail the first time around. A huge percentage of felons are guilty of little more than possession of marijuana (not distribution). That doesn't say to me that we should never trust those people again.

Felony disenfranchisement goes back to the days when the laws introduced. Their purpose was largely racist in nature. Most states that adopted the laws have rescinded them. Mississippi should, too.

Finally, please stop assuming you know the thoughts and motivations of other people. Not all people with felony records think alike, nor are all people without state-sanctioned voter IDs "irresponsible." Speak for yourself; anything else is just noise.

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thomas82601 9 months, 3 weeks ago

In our society and criminal 'justice', if you fall into that category you are charged, have a right to a trial and then if found guilty, you are punished and given an appropriate sentence for whatever law you were found to have violated. Once you have served the sentence imposed on you by the State, then, in a just society, you, as a citizen of the State should be restored to your former self as a law-abiding, responsible member of society. All impediments to this should be removed in order hat we have a progressive, fair and responsible citizenry. What is the opposite of this? If a convicted felon, having served his State imposed sentence and then, because of antiquated laws prohibit him from seeking certain jobs such as a barber, cosmetologist, insurance agent/broker, real Estate agent/broker for the simple fact that at some point in his life (even 50 years ago) he was convicted of a crime, how is this helpful to society? What does society expect this person to do if prohibited from making a living, yet he has to eat, need housing, etc., etc., What is this person left to do? We must stop this knee-jerk reactionary attitude and really apply ourselves as a society in order to move forward.

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