The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy, yet nearly six million Americans are denied that right, in many cases for life, because they have been convicted of a crime. Some states disenfranchise more than 7 percent of their adult citizens. In an unflinching speech before a civil rights conference Tuesday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. described this shameful aspect of our justice system for what it is: a “profoundly outdated” practice that is unjust and counterproductive. State laws that disenfranchise people who have served their time “defy the principles — of accountability and rehabilitation — that guide our criminal justice policies,” Mr. Holder said in urging state lawmakers to repeal them. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”
Felon disenfranchisement laws lie at the intersection of two issues on which Mr. Holder has become increasingly outspoken: criminal justice reform and voting rights. While he has no direct authority to change state laws, the weight of his words can help pave a path for legislative action in both Congress and statehouses around the country.
In recent years, many states have made it easier to regain the right to vote after a conviction, either through legislation or by executive action. But a handful of states, particularly in the South, continue to be guided by the ghosts of the post-Civil War era, when disenfranchisement laws were aimed at newly freed blacks. The brunt of today’s laws that prohibit felons from voting still falls disproportionately on minorities, who make up more than one-third of those affected. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans cannot vote because of a conviction.
Full Article: 6 Million Americans Without a Voice – NYTimes.com.