NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Former Felons Can Vote -- In Some States

October 17, 2002

In most states, released felons are deprived of the right to vote, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

  • In some states, the prohibition applies only while felons are in prison, or on probation or parole.
  • But in 14 states, ex-offenders who have completed their sentences may not vote, usually for life.
  • Nationwide, nearly four million people are disenfranchised by these laws.

According to the Sentencing Project, felony disenfranchisement among black men is seven times the national average, and in Alabama and Florida, 31 percent of black men are permanently disenfranchised.

However, in the past five years, five states have rescinded or modified their laws, restoring the vote to more than 450,000 people. There are movements afoot in several states, including Virginia and Alabama, to extend the vote to former felons.

The notion that former felons should not be allowed to vote dates back to medieval Europe, says the New York Times, where criminals were banished and suffered "civil death." Post-Reconstruction, felony disenfranchisement was used to deny the vote to blacks in some southern states.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has introduced a bill to grant former inmates the right to vote in federal elections. And a class-action suit before the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta seeks to strike down Florida's laws, which deny voting rights to more than 600,000 people.

Source: Editorial, "Former Felons Have a Right to Vote," New York Times, October 17, 2002.


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