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EDITORIAL: Eric Holder courts the cellblock vote

Attorney general goes on the hunt for undocumented Democrats

- - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ever in search of new voting blocs, the administration is making felony disenfranchisement its latest cause. Felons who have served their time in prison are now to be called "returning citizens."

That's the word from Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who demanded in a speech last week at Georgetown University that the states "fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people" after they complete probation or parole.

The nation's top law enforcement officer says state laws barring "returning citizens" from casting a ballot make "reintegration" into society more difficult. He cites a Florida study that concludes that former prisoners with restored voting rights have a lower rate of return to a career in crime.

Perhaps, but it seems more likely Mr. Holder has in mind a new survey by the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which found that a mere one in 10 returning felons registers to vote as a Republican.

It's not hard to see why. Democrats are notoriously soft on crime, and that's exactly how professional criminals like it. It's not necessarily good for the rest of society to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between criminals and Democrats.

Mr. Holder insists disenfranchisement perpetuates "the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals," which increases their desire to commit crimes. Translation: "If they won't let me vote, I'll just stick up another 7-Eleven." We're not persuaded.

The Justice Department says that 11 states — including the electoral swing state of Florida — restrict voting rights for ex-felons. Mr. Holder sees 5.8 million undocumented Democrats to add to the voting rolls. Fortunately, he has no actual authority to force states to modify their laws.

It's certainly worth considering restoring rights for certain nonviolent felons to help bring them back into society. It's good to ask why the federal government has so many Americans behind bars for "victimless" crimes.

The Lacey Act, for examples, makes it a felony to violate the environmental laws of a foreign country. The federal authorities have been a bit overzealous in prosecuting the "war on drugs." Unfortunately, this most partisan of partisan attorneys general does not have the credibility needed to make the case.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official and co-author of a forthcoming book about Mr. Holder and his tenure as attorney general, takes note of how selectively the attorney general applies his outrage.

"In most states, you lose your rights to own a gun, to sit on a jury, to engage in certain kinds of employment, like being a police officer," Mr. von Spakovsky told The Hill, a Capitol Hill political daily. "Nowhere does he say a word about restoring those rights. That tells me he is only interested in the potential votes."

We would take Mr. Holder's proposal seriously if this administration were even half as passionate about making sure that U.S. military men and women serving overseas can get an absentee ballot in time to make it count.

But since voters who wear the nation's colors, law-abiding citizens all, usually vote Republican, we don't expect Mr. Holder to turn his attention to that outrage, not even in a speech at Georgetown.