Paul drafts bill to restore voting rights for ex-cons

Political figures strongly opposed on other issues found common ground Tuesday at the Georgetown University Law Center as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Attorney General Eric Holder both voiced support for restoring voting rights to some ex-convicts.

Paul is working on a bill, referred to as the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, that would apply to federal elections, he said during a speech at the law center.

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“We think that if you had a nonviolent felony — we’re for getting you voting rights,” said the senator, who hails from one of handful of a states where felons can permanently lose access to the voting booth.

Paul’s remarks come as Democratic Attorney Gen. Eric Holder urged states to scrap laws restricting voting rights for ex-cons who have served their sentences, completed probation and paid all their fines.

Although many states have scaled back voting restrictions for past criminals, 11 still have on their books “felony disenfranchisement” laws barring roughly 5.8 million Americans from casting ballots, Holder said Tuesday at Georgetown.

Paul, who opposes his own state’s law, plans to testify before members of the Kentucky Legislature next week in favor of restoring voting rights for nonviolent felons.

The legislation now in the works is similar to a bill introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and championed by a group of Senate Democrats. The lawmakers argue that the patchwork of disparate state laws results in uneven and unfair restrictions on who can vote in presidential elections and other federal contests. 

The similarly named Democracy Restoration Act, however, would apply to all felons who had completed their sentences.

Paul stopped short of embracing that proposal.

“I’m just not quite there yet,” he said. “There can be an argument made for — once you’ve served your time, you’ve served your time. But I think as far as trying to get the coalition necessary to pass this, we’re looking at nonviolent felons.”

Paul, a vocal critic of Holder’s positions on other matters, has become an ally of the Obama administration on some criminal justice issues. He, along with the Justice Department, has called for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

On Tuesday, the conservative lawmaker called his agreement with Democrats on those issues “the best part of bipartisanship.”

“It isn’t that we come halfway to each other and split the difference on things,” he said. “It's that we can have people on the right and left that passionately believe in the same thing, and you can get something done simply by throwing away partisanship and saying, ‘What’s the right the right thing to do here?’ ”