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.”

  • smokey

    can a person who has a guardian vote

    • Elwood Billshot

      If they are over 18 and register, yes. The possible exception ‘might’ be if they have been ruled to be mentally incompetent by a Federal Court. But I doubt it.

  • Virg Prit

    If a person has been ruled incompetent by a county, state or federal court they can not vote.

    • reggie98ud

      Right, and the state through the county in which they are incarcerated can label a past offender as incompetent due to their criminal past.

  • Frank Hartzell

    people need to read the constitution…The constitution states that the the right to vote can not be denighed or stoped for any reason.Read it ,by NO level of servitude,indebtedness,or level of incarceration.

    • 82ATW

      The Constitution does not say that. Even the right to live can be denied with due process.

      • Frank Hartzell

        read the constitution fool.theright to vote can NOT be taken,you can vote even wile in prison.

        • 82ATW

          The Fifth Amendment says no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law,” so with due process of the law, the government retains its authority to deprive any person of life, liberty and property. If you had actually read the Constitution you would be basing your argument on quotes from the document instead of personal insults.

          • Frank Hartzell

            That,s not the right to vote,or to carry a gun,and a few thousand other things.Just read it.

          • 82ATW

            Yes, just read it. LIFE, liberty, or property. They can kill you, take away your rights, and take your stuff.

        • Hood Rat

          You are still a skinny redneck. And apparently an ex con too. Thank your great state (probably Mississippi) for allowing you convicts to vote. Most states do not allow it.

          Instead of interpreting the constitution, just Google it you moron.

      • Frank Hartzell

        All you so called learned people,Please READ THE CONSTITUTION befor you open your pie hole.Just read it……

    • Hood Rat

      No it doesn’t, you skinny redneck

      • Frank Hartzell

        FIRST,I,M A REDNECK AND WHAT?SECOND,I,M A LAW STUDENT AND ON THE HONOR ROLE THIRD I,M A CONVICTED FELON,AND I VOTE.I LIVE IN PA.AND I,m REGISTERED HERE. HAVE VOTED FROM JAIL MORE THEN ONCE.How,because the constitution says you can not take the right to vote from any one.READ it .By the way I weight 205,not skinny.

        • Hood Rat

          A law student can form atleast one good sentence. Being a convict doesn’t make you a law student.

        • Hood Rat

          Your right to vote as a fellon was courtesy of your state, not the constitution. Retard.

  • Joel B. Taylor

    I believe there should be a simple basic multiple choice questionare before voting. Half the people in this country are idiots! If they can’t pass the test, they can’t vote. WE DONT NEED MORONS VOTING FOR MORONS LIKE OBAMA BIN LADIN!!!!!!!

    • This comment section is a test to see who should or should not be qualified to vote. Sir, we’re sorry to inform you that you’ve failed. Please return your voter registration card forthwith.

      • Evelyn Tucker

        Lmao.. you’re the MVP..


      You’re stupid

  • John Coletti

    By the Constitution felons should be able to vote…. And I think if a felon pays taxes they should be able to vote!

    • 82ATW

      I agree that felons should be able to vote, however whether or not it’s unconstitutional is a serious gray area. The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law,” so if you can’t be deprived without due process, it’s implicit that you can be deprived of your liberties after due process. The question is, do laws automatically disenfranchising convicts without specific sentencing by a judge count as due process, and do punishments that automatically deprive people of their rights after they are no longer serving sentences for crimes due process, if the person is no longer considered a criminal by the government?

    • Hood Rat

      Where is your constitutional law degree from? Dickhead

      • Frank Hartzell

        Where,s yours?

        • Hood Rat

          Villanova Law

  • Evelyn Tucker

    So in essence a person who commits a crime even ONE time should suffer the negative after effects for the rest of their lives? Being incarcerated and or fined and made to serve probation is punishment. Once that punishment has been served voting rights should be restored just as they’re made to pay taxes. I also believe that depending on their criminal history, a felon who is non violent should be allowed to be licensed to carry a weapon.

    • Hood Rat

      No. Just felonies, dumb bitch.

    • Hood Rat

      What felonious crime, exactly, would you allow someone convicted of to carry a gun? Because we all know that people that deal felonious amounts of drugs are all non violent, right? Moron.

    • Stingyboy

      That very much true my Sister The laws that are made and never publish to the World.Litigation Pardon kicks in! They want roll them in our Face as a news alert! If we as people don’t read up on the laws that are made, We will never know!

  • Lewis Hardin

    1. Congress passed a law in the 60’s allowing each state to set up a waiting period at the end of which if the felon stayed clean all civil rights are restored including the rights to vote hold public office and own firearms. 2. There is NO constitutional right to vote. You will not find it anywhere in the constitution. 3. A person can only lose the civil rights forever if they violate certain federal laws,A state can not revoke civil rights only suspend them.

  • James Leonard Park

    Automatic, universal voter registration is a way around this problem:


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: @KQEDlowdown

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