End Of Days? Rick Santorum Agrees With The ACLU

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Senate Republicans who agree with former Sen. Rick Santorum — that disenfranchising felons had an unfair disparate impact on African-American communities — have an opportunity to take a stand by backing a bill introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) back in December.

The Democracy Restoration Act would create a uniform standard for voting in federal elections and replace the patchwork of state laws currently on the books. It’s backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the House version of the bill last year.

Santorum went after Mitt Romney during Monday night’s Fox News debate for an ad sponsored by Restore Our Future (a “super PAC” backing Romney) that showed an individual in a bright orange prison outfit along with the claim that Santorum “voted to let convicted felons vote.”“This is a huge deal in the African-American community because we have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately high rates, particularly with drug crimes in the African-American community,” Santorum said. He asked Romney if he supported allowing felons to have their rights restored, and Romney answered that violent felons should never be able to vote.

“Very interesting you should say that, because in the state of Massachusetts when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole, which was a more liberal position that I took when I voted for the bill in Congress,” Santorum responded.

Until recently, legislation to ease criminal disenfrancisement laws had been moving forward with bipartisan support, according to the ACLU’s Deborah J. Vagins.

“Between 1997 and 2009, 16 Republican governors in 12 states approved policies that relaxed voting prohibitions applicable to people with criminal records,” Vagins wrote. “But in the 2011 legislative season, we saw a variety of voting restrictions introduced in more than 30 states, and 16 states advanced measures that would create more barriers to voting, including a rollback of enfranchisement rights in Florida and Iowa.”

Another ACLU official said that their initiatives to restore the voting rights of felons have gotten support from a “wide range” of individuals.

“I do know that we have gotten some Republican support in this area,” Nancy Abudu, a senior staff counsel at the ACLU, told TPM. “Notably, Charlie Chris helped to streamline he rules for restoring people’s right to vote in Florida. Rick Scott, unfortunately, overturned that decision and so we’re back to thousands of people on the waiting list, inconsistency and confusion in terms of people trying to get their rights restored.”

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