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Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for an end to state laws that bar felons from voting, even after they have served their sentences.
"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder said Tuesday at a Washington, D.C., symposium on sentencing laws.
Holder said the restrictions bar 5.8 million Americans from casting a ballot, including 2.2 million African-Americans.
"Nearly one in 13 African-American adults are banned from voting because of these laws. In three states -- Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia -- that ratio climbs to one in five," he said.
Holder called the laws a vestige of post-Civil War racial discrimination, with a disproportionately high impact on minority communities.
The laws were not intended to improve public safety but rather "to stigmatize, shame, and shut out a person who had been found guilty of a crime."
Justice Department figures say Florida's law has disenfranchised roughly 10 percent of the population. Similar laws in Mississippi bar 8 percent of the population from voting, the figures say.
Three states -- Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky -- permanently disenfranchise convicted felons, unless the government approves an individual request to have rights restored. Eight others -- Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming -- bar at least some, though not all, convicted felons from voting.
In most states, voting rights are restored after a sentence is served, though some also require completing terms of probation or parole. Nearly all states bar felons from voting while they remain in prison.