Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called on states to repeal laws that prohibit convicted felons from voting after they have served out their sentences.
“By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes,” he said during a speech at an event organized by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as recorded by the Huffington Post. “They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles of accountability and rehabilitation that guide our criminal justice policies. And however well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be, the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated.”
Holder compared the laws preventing ex-convicts from voting to those passed after the Civil War to keep minorities from voting.
“Although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable,” he said during the speech, according to the New York Times. “It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.”
Holder highlighted bipartisan support for repealing these bans. He lauded Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and said that his “vocal support for restoring voting rights for former inmates shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines.”
Most states keep felons from voting while in prison, and 11 states ban ex-convicts from voting after their sentence is completed.
Holder does not have any authority to repeal the state-level voting bans for incarcerated individuals, but signaled a push by the Justice Department to bring the issue back into focus, according to the New York Times.