Paul Pressing to Restore Felons' Voting Rights

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will be testifying before the Kentucky Senate State & Local Government Committee today on an issue he intends to bring to the federal level soon: restoring voting rights for ex-cons.

Paul and Attorney General Eric Holder found common ground on the issue at a Georgetown University Law Forum last week.

"Formerly incarcerated people continue to face significant obstacles.  They are frequently deprived of opportunities they need to rebuild their lives. And in far too many places, their rights – including the single most basic right of American citizenship – the right to vote – are either abridged or denied," Holder said. "As the Leadership Conference Education Fund articulated very clearly in your recent report, 'there is no rational reason to take away someone’s voting rights for life just because they’ve committed a crime, especially after they’ve completed their sentence and made amends.' On the contrary: there is evidence to suggest that former prisoners whose voting rights are restored are significantly less likely to return to the criminal justice system."

Paul will chime in today on a constitutional amendment being debated in the Kentucky General Assembly that would restore the right to vote for many nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. Voters would ultimately have to approve the measure if it's passed by both chambers.

“The right to vote is a sacred one in our country and it is the very foundation of our republic," Paul said last month after the Kentucky House passed the amendment 82-12.

At Georgetown, the senator said, “We think that if you had a nonviolent felony — we’re for getting you voting rights."

His bill in progress, the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, would restore those rights in federal elections for nonviolent offenders. Paul says laws that prohibit ex-cons from voting are discriminatory.

"The biggest impediment to voting rights, right now, are convicted felons. One in three young black males has been convicted of a felony and they’ve lost their voting rights. I think it dwarfs all other (election) issues," he said last year.

A bill by Senate Democrats, the Democracy Restoration Act, would apply to all felons who have completed their sentences, even for violent crimes. Paul has not endorsed that legislation.