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
November 9th 2006
Liberals Find Rays of Hope on Ballot Measures
New York Times

A highlight of the results of ballot measures across the country, including Rhode Island's passing of an initiative that will allow previously disenfranchised prisoners on parole or probation the right to vote.

November 8th 2006
No longer barred from voting

Author congratulates newly enfranchised former felons on probation or parole, who were given the right to vote after a Rhode Island ballot measure passed November 7th.

November 3rd 2006
Bring Democracy Home
The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, outlines ways to improve the democratic process, advocating nonpartisan election administrations and encouraging IRV and proportional representation as alternatives to the current winner-takes-all system.

May 5th 2006
Felons' right to vote goes to the ballot

Voting rights for felons on probation or parole will be on the ballot in Rhode Island this fall.

August 29th 2005
Nebraska in the Lead
The New York Times

A bipartisan effort in Nebraska relaxes felon disenfranchisement law

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