One of the ugliest stains on democracy in this country is the fact that an estimated 2.6 million Americans who have committed a felony are not allowed to vote — even after they have served their sentence. This mass disenfranchisement disproportionately afflicts minority, especially black, communities. Until recently, almost no prominent Republicans cared to address the problem, seeing little political advantage in registering former inmates — especially minorities — whom they regarded as a largely Democratic electorate. In a dozen mostly GOP-tilting states, some or all felons remain barred from voting even after finishing with parole and probation.
Now some cracks are appearing in that wall to re-enfranchisement. In Virginia, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell took a step in the right direction by restoring voting rights for some nonviolent criminals, more or less automatically, once their sentences were served. The state has still not figured out how to spread the word to tens of thousands of former prisoners, but the policy is an act of justice for thousands of convicts from now on.
In another promising sign, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican weighing a presidential bid, plans to introduce a bill that would restore voting rights in federal elections to nonviolent felons. Mr. Paul acknowledges that he and other Republicans may stand to gain by such legislation, which might soften their image among hostile minority voters. But he also grasps the glaring racial injustice of the status quo.