NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

From Cell Block To Voting Booth

March 6, 2000

Should convicted felons -- whether still behind bars or after their release -- be allowed the right to vote? Some law-abiding citizens are appalled by the prospect and fear criminals will rally behind candidates who indicate they may adopt positions which promise softer treatments for miscreants. Others argue voting is a right to be shared by all Americans.

What is clear is that the laws governing political participation by convicts vary from state to state.

  • An estimated 1 million former convicts remain barred from voting by state laws.
  • They are the residents of 14 states -- such as Virginia and Florida -- that don't allow convicts to vote even after they have served their time.
  • Convicted felons in 32 states may not vote until they complete parole.
  • In 10 states, ex-convicts are barred from the ballot box for life.

Led by an alliance of black state legislators and prison reform groups, a national campaign has been launched to restore voting rights to convicted felons. Legislation to do just that is pending in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Legislators in Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Virginia and Connecticut are considering offering similar bills.

A proposal to restore the right to vote in federal elections is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Sources: Richard Willing, "Ex-Convicts Hope to Regain Right to Vote," USA Today, and Sarah Lueck, "Voters Behind Bars: Small Constituency is Disturbing to Some on the Outside," Wall Street Journal, both on March 6, 2000.

 

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