Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time in prison has split Senate Democrats. Liberal Democrats who are not facing tough re-elections this year say it’s the right thing to do, but vulnerable incumbents are steering clear of the proposal. Holder has become increasingly outspoken recently. This week he declared that state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws that are discriminatory. Political experts say barring ex-felons from voting impacts African Americans disproportionately. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who faces a competitive challenge from former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, is torn over the idea. Warner supports restoring voting rights to non-violent ex-felons but he’s not sure it’s a good idea to automatically enfranchise former violent felons.
“I would absolutely support [restoring rights to] non-violent felons,” said Warner. “On violent — what I want to do is look at it.” Warner suggested imposing a higher threshold for violent ex-felons to regain voting rights.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said it would be politically risky for Warner to embrace the automatic renewal of rights for all ex-felons.
“Why should Warner endorse it? It’s not going to pass,” he said. “There would be an upside if somehow he could wave a magic wand and get all the rights restored because disproportionately these people are African American and therefore they would almost certainly vote Democratic.”
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