Restore Felon Voting Rights
5.85 million American citizens have been stripped of the right to vote due to criminal convictions. The laws that permit this disenfranchisement were originally written to suppress black, immigrant, and minority voting. They continue to hinder those communities today.
Our criminal justice system is based on the assumption that a life’s course can be corrected. To uphold that idea, we must encourage responsible participation at the voting booth. No citizen should be locked up without the right to vote on the government that holds the key.
Real democracy means protecting the right to vote for ALL citizens, regardless of criminal status. It's time for America to restore full voting rights to citizens convicted of a felony.
The Facts on Felon Voting Rights
- 5.85 million citizens have been stripped of the right to vote.
- 75 percent of the disenfranchised have already returned home to their communities.
- 13 percent of African American men have lost their right to vote, seven times the national average.
- Some states disenfranchise more than 7 percent of their adult citizens.
- The number of disenfranchised has quintupled since 1976.
- The number of women in prison, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men.
- More than 1 in 5 African Americans is disenfranchised in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Who's Doing it?
The Maryland General Assembly restored voting rights in February 2016 to about 44,000 citizens who are under probation or parole. The assembly had to override a veto by Governor Larry Hogan to do so.
Outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order in November 2015 to automatically restore voting rights to Kentuckians who serve their sentences. 170,000 citizens had been impacted by Kentucky's strict felon disenfranchisement law, which requires former offenders to petition for restoration of their voting rights. The order was unfortunately rescinded by Beshear's Republican successor, Governor Matt Bevin. Bevin's 2015 victory was viewed with suspicion by election defenders due to polling, statistical, and other anomalies.
The previous California secretary of state, Debra Bowen, ordered that voting rights not be granted to citizens who were released from prison under a special program intended to reduce overcrowding in California prisons. She considered their cases equivalent to parolees, who are not allowed to vote under California law. But a judge found in spring 2015 that her order violated the state constitution. She filed a challenge to the ruling, but the current secretary of state, Alex Padilla, withdrew it. More than 60,000 Californians were affected by the ruling.
Maine allows citizens to vote even while in prison.
Vermont allows citizens to vote even while in prison.
[NEDC does not endorse any specific piece of legislation]
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Representative John Conyers of Michigan introduced the Democracy Restoration Act of 2015. It calls for restoring the right to vote in federal elections unless an individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution at the time of the election. This equates to 4.4 million Americans with past convictions who are out of prison and living in the community.
The bill also ensures that people who are merely put on probation will never lose their right to vote in federal elections. It also requires that the government notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor.
Brennan Center for Justice has done an excellent job documenting the national momentum and growing bipartisan consensus for felon voting rights restoration. For information on the status of the law in your state, please check their map and their state-by-state guide.
Some members of Congress believe felons should have their voting rights restored through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees every citizen the right to vote.
The Right to Vote Amendment
Section 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SEC 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
A similar amendment in Florida focusing solely on expansion of felon voting rights failed to attract enough support to make it onto the November 2016 ballot.
The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement, New York Times
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
Felony Disenfranchisement: A Primer, Sentencing Project
Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws Across the United States, Brennan Center
Felony Disenfranchisement News, Sentencing Project
Right to Vote Amendment Resources, FairVote