Nearly 6 million voting-age Americans can’t vote in the 2016 primaries and presidential election because of state felon disenfranchisement laws.
Almost half of this total disenfranchised population lives in the 12 states with the most stringent restrictions, where voting rights are commonly denied to felons who have not only served prison sentences, but also finished their probation or parole terms. Conversely, Maine and Vermont are the only two states where people currently in prison are actually allowed to vote.
This map shows state felon voting laws and disenfranchisement impacts, based on an analysis by The Sentencing Project (using 2010 data). Although not reflected on the map, the Maryland legislature recently moved to automatically restore voting rights to felons after their release from prison. The change, which will impact an estimated 40,000 people, goes into effect on March 10, ahead of the state’s primary election.
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When it comes to restoring the voting rights of convicted felons, few countries in the world are as restrictive as the United States.
As of 2010, roughly 5.85 million Americans — or about 2.5 percent of the voting age population — were unable to vote due to a current or previous felony conviction, according to an analysis by the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for reforms in the criminal justice reform. That amounts to roughly one in every 40 adults in America who can’t vote because of a previous conviction, a large enough population to potentially influence the outcomes of close local and national races.
Only a minority of these disenfranchised voters are currently in jail or prison, according to the analysis. As many as 75 percent live in their communities, some still under probation or parole supervision and others who have completed their sentences altogether but are still barred from voting.
Disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect African Americans: in 2010, 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age — about 7.7 percent nationally — was disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than with non-African Americans, according to the analysis. In some of the strictest states — including Florida, Kentucky and Virginia — more than 20 percent of the African American population was disenfranchised, the report found.
Last February, Attorney General Eric Holder called on the states with some of the strictest laws to restore voting rights to felons after their release from prison.
“It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder said during an address at Georgetown University. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”