Democrats are walking very gingerly around Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to give felons the right to vote once they are out of prison. Notwithstanding the fact that a large percentage of felons are African-American and more likely to vote for the Democrats, the Democratic incumbents seeking reelection are trying to avoid committing to Holder’s notion for fear they would be perceived as too liberal for the citizenry. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has plans for legislation giving voting rights to felons immediately after their release.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), running against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, says he would give non-violent ex-felons the right to vote but he’s not committing to giving the same right to former violent felons. He quavered, “I would absolutely support [restoring rights to] non-violent felons. On violent — what I want to do is look at it.”
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said endorsing Holder’s plan would be risky for Warner. He warned:
Why should Warner endorse it? It’s not going to pass. There would be an upside if somehow he could wave a magic wand and get all the rights restored because disproportionately these people are African American and therefore they would almost certainly vote Democratic. The downside is that it would re-enforce the view Republicans are pushing in the state that Mark Warner is no centrist, he’s just another Obama Democrat, quote unquote, that’s their line.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who may run against former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), only answered of Holder and Cardin’s plans, “I would need to look at the legislation,” then ducked into an elevator in the Capitol.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), now facing a tough opponent in Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) just referred the question to his press office, where his spokesman did not answer follow-up calls and e-mails.
Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) would not answer any questions regarding their stances on ex-felons voting.
Jean Smith, a member of Arkansas-CURE, (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants), said of Pryor, “To my knowledge he has not addressed it. What he’s trying to do is play both sides of the fence. He doesn’t want to take on anything that’s too controversial because he’s not very popular.”
A spokesman for Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, said she supports restoring voting rights to ex-felons. She was joined by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who said, “Except in the rarest circumstances, after they’ve paid their price to society they ought to be participants in our electoral system. I think it’s a move in the right direction,” and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who echoed, “If you committed a felony but are out of prison, you can vote in Ohio. I’m fine with that.”