Felons Voting Rights

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Felons Voting Rights


Most states in the United States disenfranchise incarcerated felons as well as nonincarcerated felons on probation or parole. A large minority of states additionally disenfranchises ex-felons after the conclusion of their sentence, and three states disenfranchise all felons for life. Only two states, Vermont and Maine, place no restrictions on the voting rights of convicted offenders, whereas some other states disenfranchise both felons and misdemeanants (Western, 55). Felon disenfranchisement is more common in the United States than in other democratic countries, where it is typically restricted to imprisoned felons for the duration of incarceration.


Although the number of states that disenfranchise ex-felons has sharply decreased since the 1950s, the number of affected individuals has increased because of an increase in the number of offenses classified as felonies and the increased probability of conviction in the sentencing stage of criminal trials. As a result of their over-representation in the criminal justice system, about 12 percent of black men nationwide had lost their right to vote as of 2004.

The impact of felon disenfranchisement on political outcomes hinges on three factors: the size of the disenfranchised population, voter turnout, and political preferences (Pattillo, 63). About 5.3 million current and former felons (2.5 percent of the voting age population) were ineligible to participate in the 2004 presidential election. Approximately 40 percent of these individuals were ex-felons no longer under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Research suggests that voter turnout rates would be an estimated one-third lower among disenfranchised felons than in the general population (Mauer, 35).

The number of votes prevented by felon disenfranchisement, therefore, is large. (Some researchers argue that the apparent decline in voter turnout since the 1970s may be due primarily to felon disenfran-chisement: If disenfranchised citizens—mostly felons—are subtracted from the voting age population, which forms the denominator of conventional voter turnout rates, participation rates in the voting-eligible population are essentially constant over time.) One analysis concludes that as a result of the strong preference for the Democratic Party among disenfranchised felons, the 2000 presidential election would have been decided for Democrats in the absence of felon disen-franchisement. No other presidential election, however, is estimated to have hinged on felon disenfranchisement, although a small number of Senate races in the past 30 years may have (Manza, 77).

These days, convicted felons constitute the largest single group of American citizens who are permanently prohibited from voting in elections. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia ban inmates from voting. In 32 states, individuals on parole or probation cannot vote. In 13 states, a felony conviction can lead to a lifetime loss of voting rights. As a result of these laws, there are more than 4 million American citizens who have permanently lost the right to vote.

Whether a convicted felon can vote depends on the state he or she resides in, not the state he or she was convicted in. Therefore, a felon convicted in the state of New Hampshire would be able to vote in elections while residing in ...
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