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Voting Rights for Felons – Where Each State Stands Heading into the 2020 Presidential Election

As the vote for the next President of the United States nears, the disenfranchisement of America’s felons is once again making headlines.

According to NBC News, 6.1 million Americans were unable to vote in 2016—the last time Americans elected a president—even though they had served their time and were now free from prison. This spotlight on disenfranchised felons prompted multiple states to reassess their voting laws in the past four years and consider reinstating the voting rights of felons.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a great in-depth breakdown of how each state distributes its voting rights to ex-felons, but you can also read below for more details.

States where felons never lose their voting rights

In two states, Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their voting rights. That means even from prison, felons are allowed to vote.

States that automatically restore a felon’s right to vote after release

16 states and the District of Columbia will automatically restore a felon’s right to vote once they are released from prison, these states are:

  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland*
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah

*In Maryland, there is an exception. Anyone who is convicted of buying or selling votes will not receive his/her right to vote back unless he/she is pardoned by the state’s governor.

Lost until parole and/or probation is complete

In 21 states, felons receive their voting rights back only after they complete their parole and/or probation; they are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California**
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York***
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

**In 2016, legislators in the state of California voted to allow inmates in county jails the ability to vote. Felons in state or federal prison must still wait until their parole and/or probation is complete before their ability to vote is restored.

***In New York the Attorney General’s website says that felons must still wait until their parole has expired, they have been pardoned or their maximum sentence has expired. According to the Brennan Center, in 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo started using his pardon power to give felons released from prison the right to vote.

All other states

In the rest of the states, a felon’s voting rights are lost until the sentence is complete. In some cases, there is also a waiting period after the completion of the sentence. Some of the states are trying to adjust their laws to allow some felons voting rights, but the changes vary from state to state.

Alabama

In Alabama, whether or not a felon is allowed to vote after release depends on the crime for which he/she was convicted. For example, felons who have committed dangerous crimes like murder or rape cannot vote unless they receive a full pardon from the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Alabama has always required felons who have committed crimes of moral turpitude to re-apply for the right to vote. However, until 2017, the state did not define what was considered moral turpitude and what was not. The state has now defined the 47 crimes that are considered crimes of moral turpitude.

Felons who have committed any other crimes will automatically have their voting rights restored when they are released from prison and simply need to re-register to vote.

 

The ACLU of Alabama has more details on Alabama’s voting laws regarding felons.

Arizona

According to the ACLU in Arizona, Arizona will automatically restore the voting rights of a first-time offender, provided the offender completes probation and pays any owed fines or restitution. Felons who have committed two or more felonies may also receive their voting rights back, but there are more requirements that they will have to meet before those rights are restored.

Delaware

According to the website Nonprofit Vote, most felons in Delaware automatically receive their voting rights back after they complete their sentence, parole, and probation. People who commit murder, bribery or a sex offense permanently lose their voting rights.

Florida

The court system is currently fighting over what is required to allow felons released from prison the right to vote. Last year, the legislature passed a bill that would require felons to pay off all court fees and fines before their sentence was considered complete. They would not receive their voting rights back until the sentence was complete. However, critics took the bill to court calling it a “poll tax”. In October, a U.S. District judge placed a preliminary injunction on the bill. (Source: NBC News)

As of now, felons who have served their sentence can vote if all court fees and fines are paid, but that could change if the judge’s ruling is challenged.

Iowa

In Iowa, anyone convicted of a felony permanently loses the right to vote or hold public office unless they apply for and are granted the restoration of their voting rights. The state’s governor is currently working to change the state constitution to allow felons the right to vote once they have been released from prison but has so far been unsuccessful.

Kentucky

According to the Kentucky Department of Corrections, anyone who has been convicted of a felony loses the right to vote or hold public office. They can apply to have their civil rights restored with the Governor of Kentucky if they have their Final Discharge papers from parole or their sentence has expired. Applicants cannot be under felony indictment, have pending charges or owe any fines or restitution.

Mississippi

A federal court is currently deciding whether some felons within the state will receive their right to vote back. According to the Associated Press, the state currently bans people convicted of 22 crimes including murder, forgery, bigamy, timber larceny and carjacking from voting after they are released. To have the rights restored, each felon must get a pardon from the governor or ask the state legislature to pass a bill that restores their right to vote.

If an individual has not committed one of the 22 offenses listed by the state of Mississippi, they will automatically have their voting rights restored.

Nebraska

There is a two-year waiting period in Nebraska before a felon who has completed his/her sentence is allowed to vote. (Source: Nebraska State Legislature)

Tennessee

According to Tennessee’s Secretary of State’s website, a felon can receive his/her voting rights back if his/her record is expunged by the governor or if the state agrees to restore his/her voting rights. A felon must apply to have his/her voting rights restored.

Felons who have committed what’s called an “infamous crime” may never receive their right to vote back. The Secretary of State of Tennessee’s website has a list of those crimes.

Virginia

The state of Virginia will not allow felons to vote unless the Governor or another appropriate authority reinstate the right to vote to that specific individual. In 2016, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe tried to implement an executive order that would automatically restore the voting rights of felons who had completed their prison sentence and terms of parole or probation, but that was blocked by the Virginia Supreme Court.

As a result, WAMU reports that McAuliffe personally signed off on the voting rights of 173,000 felons during his tenure. His successor, Governor Ralph Northam has signed off on more than 22,000 more since taking office.

Wyoming

According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, anyone who is a first-time, nonviolent felon can automatically have their voting rights restored if they completed their supervision or they were discharged after January 1, 2010. Anyone who completed their sentence before January 1, 2010, must apply for the restoration of the right to vote.

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