Voting Rights After a Felony Conviction

As an American, you have certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But, when you are convicted of a crime, the government believes it has justification to remove some of those rights. Depending on where you live and your conviction, you may never regain them, even after serving your sentence.

A new report from the Sentencing Project says that 2.5% of the U.S. voting population (1 in 40 adults) cannot vote due to a current or previous felony conviction. This is remarkable. These people do not have a say in how they are represented by lawmakers, leaving them to not be represented at all.

When you are convicted, your right to vote will be taken away in most states (even if only temporarily). Only Maine and Vermont allow convicts to vote from prison, never restricting those particular rights. But, in 13 states you could lose your right to vote permanently. Those states include:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Delaware
  4. Florida
  5. Iowa
  6. Kentucky
  7. Mississippi
  8. Nebraska
  9. Nevada
  10. Rhode Island
  11. Tennessee
  12. Virginia
  13. Wyoming

For some people this doesn’t seem to be a big concern. After all, many Americans don’t exercise their right to vote even when it isn’t restricted. However, others see this as just an extension of Jim Crow laws, specifically targeted at restricting the number of minorities who can go to the ballots.

There’s no mistaking, that felon disenfranchisement affects black men more than anyone else. African Americans are disenfranchised (have their voting rights taken away) at a rate four times greater than non-blacks.

“Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.” (Sentencing Project)

The number of disenfranchised adults in general has skyrocketed in recent decades with the rush to imprison drug offenders. In 1976, there were 1.17 million people disenfranchised. By 2010, that number had climbed to over 5.85 million.

This country is built on the premise of equal representation. And when we take away or even restrict voting right temporarily, there is an absence of this in elected officials.

While a felony drug conviction, for example, may show bad judgment or even a simple life mistake, it certainly doesn’t mean that the person is morally flawed. We all make mistakes, to one degree or another, it’s just those people in prison made mistakes that broke the law, and unlike millions of other lawbreakers, they got caught.

The over-simplified solution that many people hear is to simply avoid a conviction in the first place. While that’s a good place to start, it isn’t the complete answer.

Until lawmakers make significant changes to the rights of felons, we are left navigating a legal system that would like nothing more than to wipe felon rights completely off the board.