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Tough sledding to end the U.S.’s disgraceful felon voting bans

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 2/19/2014, 10:53 a.m.

Many offenders don’t even serve a day in prison. They may have been convicted of auto theft, or for first time drug possession, and given probation, or a fine. Since most are young men when they committed their crime the chances are good that many won’t become career criminals, but will hold steady jobs, raise families and become responsible members of the community. Yet as long as society slaps on them the legal and social stigma of being a one-time criminal they are deprived of the basic constitutional right to vote and relegated to second-class citizenship in perpetuity.

Holder had barely finished his call to the states to dump the felon voting bans before Republican governors in Iowa and Florida made it clear that they did not see the felon bans as racially-biased or a blight on society, and that they had no intention of touching the laws. It’s worth noting that Holder’s call for an end to the bans is just that — a call. The attorney general has absolutely no authority to compel the states to take action on the bans. Worse, there have been few court challenges from civil liberties organizations. And despite the slightly shifting tide in public opinion about drug laws, sentencing, and even a rethink of treatment and rehabilitation for non-violent offenders, few public officials are willing to be cursed as “soft on crime,” and most state legislatures have ignored the issue. Michigan Democrat John Conyers has touted a bill over the years aimed at lifting the prohibition on ex-felon voting, but it never gained any traction in Congress.

The only way ex-felons can get their voting rights restored is to seek a pardon from the governor. However, this is a dead end for most. So, few ex-felons even bother to request a pardon.

Holder did the right thing by attempting to verbally whipsaw the states to play fair with ex-felons and end their disenfranchisement. But for all his good intentions, the fight to end the nation’s disgraceful ex-felon vote bans will be tough sledding.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson