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
September 27th 2007
Restoring felons' rights slowed by bureaucracy
St. Petersburg Times

Nearly six months after Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet made it easier for some felons to regain their civil rights, the system is choked by a backlog of more than one hundred thousand cases awaiting review.

May 14th 2007
It's Right to Grant Former Felons the Right to Vote

The Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch writes about the benefits of reinstating voting rights to people with felony convictions.

April 5th 2007
Florida Restores Felon Voting Rights
The New York Times

Florida's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and the state clemency board approved restoring voting rights to people who have been convicted of a felony.

April 3rd 2007
Florida Governor Is Hoping to Restore Felon Voting Rights
The New York Times

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to bring his state into the mainstream by restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies.

April 3rd 2007
Crist ready to restore ex-convicts' rights
The Miami Herald

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist faces opposition from fellow Republicans in an effort to restore civil rights to people convicted of felonies.

[ Next ]