NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disenfranchised By Choice

December 21, 2000

Millions of Americans have lost their civil rights by committing a felony and being convicted for the offense. One civil right they usually lose is the right to vote. Most have not regained their voting rights, even after leaving prison or completing parole. Many could have their right to vote restored by following various state procedures, but don't.

A 1998 report by the Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch, based on Census Bureau data, estimated that nearly 3.9 million adults were ineligible to vote because of past convictions.

  • That's about two percent of the population.
  • But nationwide, 13 percent of adult black males were ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions.
  • And in Florida and Alabama, nearly one-third of adult African-American males (31 percent) are barred from voting due to a felony conviction.

Nearly three-quarters of the disenfranchised felons had already served their time or were on parole.

  • Only two states -- Maine and Vermont -- place no restrictions on voting by felons, even those in prison.
  • In nine states -- Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Virginia, Wyoming and New Mexico -- ex-felons who have completed their sentences can be disenfranchised for life, depending on the circumstances.
  • Tennessee and Washington deny post-punishment voting rights to people convicted before the two states eased their laws in the mid-1980s.
  • And Arizona and Maryland disenfranchise felons permanently on their second conviction.

In these 13 states, disenfranchised ex-felons can receive a pardon or clemency from the governor or petition to have their voting rights restored. Other states automatically restore ex-felons' voting rights, but require some kind of effort.

Source: David S. Cloud, "Felons Make Up a Large Chunk Of the Missing Electorate in U.S.," Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2000.

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