Eric Holder today called on states to get rid of laws that prevent felons who have served their time from voting. The New York Times calls it a "mostly symbolic" move by the attorney general because he can't force states to do so, but the Washington Post suggests that his speech at Georgetown University Law Center could at least "influence the debate." Both stories say about 5.8 million people in the US can't vote because of the laws, which vary from state to state. But a disproportionate number of those disenfranchised—about one-third—are African-Americans, says Holder.
“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. The laws mean that nearly one in 13 black Americans can't vote, with the most restrictive states being Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia. "These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive," said Holder. "By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes." (Holder also is working to reform what he calls "draconian" drug sentences.)