The right to vote and to cast a free and secret ballot is supposed to be the cornerstone of democracy. Yet, upwards of 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of a past felony conviction. In fact, felons are the only group who is banned from voting by law. While Maine and Vermont allow all residents to vote, even residents serving time in jail, every other state has enacted laws that ban those serving time from voting. Two states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently disenfranchise people convicted of felonies even after they have served their time.

The exclusion of lawbreakers from the political process dates back hundreds of years. Colonial law incorporated provisions that restricted or eliminated the rights of felons to vote. However, today's laws that restrict voting rights owe their history to the post-civil war reconstruction era. Southern states in particular worried about the potential effects of the15th amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote. These states enacted a series of "Jim Crow" laws, such as poll taxes and literacy requirements, as a means to disenfranchise voters. Banning people with felony convictions from voting significantly limits the number of African-Americans who can vote. According to the Sentencing Project, "1.4 million African American men, or 13% of black men, is disenfranchised, a rate seven-times the national average."

Over the last few years, advocates of felon voting rights have helped to successfully dismantle some laws, but the fight continues and millions of citizens every election are unable to vote because they have a felony conviction on their record.

To learn more about felon disenfranchisement visit The Sentencing Project.


Find the state processes for ex-felon re-enfranchisement This is especially useful if you are an ex-felon, a friend/family member of an ex-felon or are simply curious about the policies and procedures individual states establish.

[ More resources on felon disenfranchisement ]  

Felons' right to vote goes to the ballot

Published May 5th 2006 in Boston.com
PROVIDENCE, R.I. --The Senate approved a bill Thursday that could pave the way for convicted felons on probation or parole to gain the right to vote.

Last year the General Assembly approved sending the issue to the ballot for voters to decide if they want to amend the state constitution to allow felons to vote. Thursday's bill details the process for registering felons to vote and is contingent on voter approval of the ballot question in November.

The Department of Corrections would provide the felons with voter registration forms and offer help to fill them out.

Sponsors of bill are mostly Providence's lawmakers who have a significant number of constituents serving probation or parole.

The legislators said Rhode Island has the nation's second highest rate of people on probation and is the only state in New England that prohibits voting for residents serving time in prison or on probation or parole.

As a result, 15,500 convicted felons in Rhode Island are disenfranchised. Most of them are minorities and losing their votes affect the neighborhoods with high numbers of people on probation or parole.

Sen. Joseph Polisena, one of four senators who voted against the bill, said he preferred the bill to make a distinction between felons who commit minor crimes and those who commit serious ones, like rape or murder.

"It's not that I don't forgive people," Polisena said. "But there are people who don't deserve a second chance."

Meanwhile, the House approved a bill that allows diners in Rhode Island to bring home their unfinished wine.

Supporters said it improves public safety because diners won't feel that they need to finish off the bottle of wine in the restaurant.

The opened bottles would be recorked, sealed in a bag and labeled with a receipt before the diners bring them home.


Information from: The Providence Journal, http://www.projo.com/