Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

They paid their debt


OUR OPINION: Restore voting rights to ex-felons

Attorney General Eric Holder, who has become the Obama administration’s leading voice on minorities’ civil rights and criminal-justice reforms, recently championed a group that seldom gets the sympathy of law enforcers — convicted felons. During a criminal-justice symposium at Georgetown University last week, Mr. Holder called on 11 states, Florida included, to change their rules or to lift outright bans that prohibit felons who have served their time from voting.

Calling these rules a remnant of the Jim Crow era, when Southern states used all sorts of means to prevent black Americans from voting, Mr. Holder said, “Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.”

While the rules regarding if and when ex-inmates in Florida can vote have fluctuated over the years, the rule today is that felons must wait five years after they're released from prison to apply for restoration of their voting rights. The Florida Cabinet adopted this rule in 2011. The arbitrary time of five years makes no sense. In truth, most felons, with the possible exception of violent offenders and those who commit sex-related crimes, should have their voting rights restored automatically when they have done their time.

Mr. Holder has no power to change the states’ policies, but he was right in calling attention to the issue. According to him, an estimated 5.8 million American felons — 2.2 million of them African American — are disenfranchised by states denying them voting rights. Like other criminal-justice issues Mr. Holder has tackled lately, there is a racial component here. More black Americans are incarcerated than any other group and generally receive tougher sentences for drug-related crimes.

Mr. Holder is pushing for measures to reduce the U.S. prison population, like his call on Congress to get rid of overly harsh mandatory drug sentences and calling for changes in strict school disciplinary policies that, he says, push kids into street crime rather than help them straighten up.

Restoring felons’ voting rights is not an easy sell in many states. Studies have found that felons are more likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans, so lifting the voting bans and limits in states is a partisan issue that likely won't change soon in GOP-led states like Florida. Interestingly, a 2002 study by the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election would “almost certainly” have come out differently had more felons in the country been allowed to vote.

Still, the Democratic attorney general has an unusual ally in this cause: Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has endorsed his state's legislative move to allow some felons —excluding violent offenders and those convicted of sex crimes — to be able to vote once their sentences are completed.

Sen. Paul, a libertarian, also supports Mr. Holder's call for ending mandatory sentencing for low-level drug crimes. Praising Sen. Paul, who also appeared at the Georgetown symposium, Mr. Holder said, that his support for restoring voting rights for ex-inmates “shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines.”

He's right. States shouldn’t continue to punish American men and women after they have paid their debt to society and are trying to move on with their lives.

Read more Editorials stories from the Miami Herald

  • Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Filling the bench

    OUR OPINION: The selection of judges a problem in the Florida gubernatorial race

  • Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Black eye for the region

    OUR OPINION: Venezuela does not deserve support for Security Council seat

Florida State Prison in Starke, the department’s largest prison.

    Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Crime in Florida’s prisons

    OUR OPINION: Corrections secretary must push — hard — for reform

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category