In California, felons serving time in prison or county jail are denied their right to vote. So too are ex-felons who have served their prison terms but are still on parole.That amounts to a fairly significant population – many thousands of California residents – who have temporarily lost their right to vote as a result of criminal convictions.

(Most inmates in county jail awaiting trial or serving time for a misdemeanor, or who are on probation, can still vote, according to the California Secretary of State’s voting guide for current and former inmates).

And this raises an important question: is voting a privilege that should be denied to people who commit crimes, or is it an inalienable right?

Most states in the U.S. seem seem to agree with the former idea. In fact, only two – Maine and Vermont – allow their prisoners and parolees to continue voting.

According to The Sentencing Project, 5.3 million Americans (1 in 40 adults) were unable to vote – disenfranchised –  in 2008 due to a felony conviction. That figure is expected to rise to nearly 6 million for this election, including 1.4 million African-American men.

Among disenfranchised felons, nearly 75 percent are not actually behind bars at all – most are either on parole, probation, or have completed their sentences altogether.

Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia have the nation’s strictest felon voting restrictions, in which felons permanently lose their voting rights.

Where do you stand?

Source: ACLU

Additional Resources

Should Felons Have the Right to Vote? 28 February,2014Matthew Green

  • rogerclegg

    If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you.
    can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do.
    when you vote. The right to vote can be.
    restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after.
    a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not.
    automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most.
    people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue in our congressional testimony here:

  • Andersonshari1964

    No felons should not have the right to vote! Voting is a privilege you are afforded as a United States citizen. That’s something you should think about before you break the law. How much will I loose?


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

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