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 ]  
Voting Rights for Felons
June 29th 2005
Rhode Island: Vote for Felons
The New York Times

Voters will consider an amendment allowing felons to vote after they finish their prison terms

June 23rd 2005
Felons Shoudn't Lose Right to Vote
Whittier Daily News

Law enforcement leaders argue against felon disenfranchisement

June 22nd 2005
Extending Democracy to Ex-Offenders
The New York Times

Returning the right to vote to ex-offenders is an important step toward a healthier democracy.

June 18th 2005
Iowa Governor Will Give Felons the Right to Vote
The New York Times

Governor's order will end one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country.

March 9th 2005
Securing Everyone's Right to Vote
San Francisco Bay View

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