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Ex-felons and the vote

From an editorial Sunday in the Miami Herald:

Attorney General Eric Holder, who has become the Obama administration’s leading voice on minorities’ civil rights and criminal-justice reforms, recently championed a group that seldom gets the sympathy of law enforcers – convicted felons. During a criminal-justice symposium at Georgetown University last week, Mr. Holder called on 11 states to change their rules or to lift outright bans that prohibit felons who have served their time from voting.

Calling these rules a remnant of the Jim Crow era, when Southern states used all sorts of means to prevent black Americans from voting, Mr. Holder said, “Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.”

Mr. Holder has no power to change the states’ policies, but he was right in calling attention to the issue.

Restoring felons’ voting rights is not an easy sell in many states. Studies have found that felons are more likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans, so lifting the voting bans and limits in states is a partisan issue that likely won’t change soon in GOP-led states. (N.C. lawmakers considered making felons wait five years to vote, but removed that provision from its recent voter ID law.)

Still, the Democratic attorney general has an unusual ally in this cause: Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has endorsed his state’s legislative move to allow some felons – excluding violent offenders and those convicted of sex crimes – to be able to vote once their sentences are completed.

He’s right. States shouldn’t continue to punish American men and women after they have paid their debt to society and are trying to move on with their lives.

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