Where People Convicted of Felonies Can Vote in the United States

Millions of Americans Convicted of Serious Crimes Can't Vote

Why convicted felons can vote
Convicted felons in 38 states can vote after they complete their sentences. Darrin Klimek/Getty Images

The right to vote is considered one of the most sacred and fundamental tenets of American democracy, and even people convicted of felonies, the most serious crimes in the penal system, are allowed to vote in most states. Convicted felons are even allowed to vote from behind prison bars in some states.

Those who support restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies after they complete their sentences and pay their debts to society say it is improper to permanently strip them of the power to take part in elections.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to tens of thousands of convicted felons on a case-by-case basis in 2016 after the state's high court rejected his blanket order earlier in the year.

"I personally believe in the power of second chances and in the dignity and worth of every single human being. These individuals are gainfully employed. They send their children and their grandchildren to our schools. They shop at our grocery stores and they pay taxes. And I am not content to condemn them for eternity as inferior, second-class citizens," McAuliffe said.

Project Vote estimates that about 5.8 million people are not able to vote because of laws that temporarily or permanently ban people convicted of felonies from voting. "These are disproportionately Americans of color, from the very disenfranchised communities that most need to have a voice in the democratic process," the group states.

While felons are allowed to vote after they've completed their sentences in most cases, the matter is left up to the states. Virginia, for example, is one of nine states in which people convicted of felonies receive the right to vote only by a specific action from the governor. Others automatically restore the right to vote after a person convicted of a felony serves time.

The policies vary from state to state.

Attorney Estelle H. Rogers, writing in a 2014 policy paper, said the various policies in reinstating voting rights creates too much confusion.

"Policies on felon re-enfranchisement are inconsistent across the 50 states and create confusion among former offenders who wish to regain the right to vote, as well as the offcials charged with implementing the laws. The result is a network of misinformation that discourages some legally eligible voters from registering to vote and places undue restrictions on others during the registration process. On the other hand, former offenders who are not fully informed of their state’s restrictions may register and vote, and, in doing so, unwittingly commit a new crime," she wrote.

Here's a look at which states do what, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States With No Ban on Voting for People Convicted of Felonies

These two states allow those convicted of felonies to vote even while they serve their terms. The voters in these states never lose their rights.

  • Maine
  • Vermont

States That Ban People Convicted of Felonies From Voting While Incarcerated

These states strip voting rights from people convicted of felonies while they're serving out their terms but restore them automatically once they are out of prison.

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island

States That Restore Voting Rights to People Convicted of Felonies After Completion of Sentence

These states restore voting rights to those convicted of felony crimes only after they have completed their entire sentences including prison term, ​parole, ​and probation, among other certain requirements.

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Some of these states have instituted a waiting period of several years before felons who have completed their sentences can apply to vote again.

 

States Where the Governor Must Reinstate Voting Rights

In these states, voting rights are not automatically restored and, in most cases, the governor must do it on a case-by-case basis.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona (repeat offenders)
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky 
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • Virginia 
  • Wyoming

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