NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should Felons Have Voting Privileges?

November 3, 2000

State laws on allowing convicted felons to participate in elections vary widely. A majority of states automatically grant voting rights to felons once they have completed their prison and parole terms.

But other states follow different policies.

  • Nine states -- including Alabama and Florida -- do not allow anyone with a felony conviction to vote.
  • At the other extreme, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine let felons cast votes while they are still behind bars.
  • New Jersey and Connecticut allow former felons to vote once they have completed probation.
  • Nationally, about 4.2 million convicted felons cannot vote.

A study conducted by Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota and Jeff Manza of Northwestern University found that about 7 percent of African-Americans are barred from voting under the felony laws. That compares to about 2.1 percent of the general population, using 1998 prison and parole data.

Alabama and Florida have the highest rates.

A group of ex-felons in Florida have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit -- charging that the state law excludes black voters and thus violates the Voting Rights Act. In Alabama earlier this year, legislators narrowly rejected a bill to restore voting rights automatically after prison and parole.

Source: Somini Sengupta, "Felony Costs Voting Rights for a Lifetime in 9 States," New York Times, November 3, 2000.


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