Roughly 6.1 million voting-age American citizens who have been convicted of crimes are restricted from voting in next week’s presidential election because of felon disenfranchisement laws.

That’s about 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting-age population – 1 of every 40 adults – that can’t vote because of a current or previous felony conviction, according to recent analysis by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group.

Most of this population is not currently incarcerated. In fact, convicted felons in prison and jail today represent less than 25 percent of the disenfranchised population, according to the report. The vast majority are out of prison and living back in their communities.

More than half of this total disenfranchised population lives in 12 mostly conservative states with the most stringent restrictions. In nine of these states, voting rights are routinely denied to convicted felons who have completed their post-sentence supervision (probation or parole).

In Florida, a major swing state,  more than 10 percent of the voting age population is disenfranchised. Felon voting rights are only restored through a governor’s executive action or a court order. Similar rules apply in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia.

This map shows state felon disenfranchisement rates and related voting restrictions. Note that for the most restrictive states, voting can only be reinstated through the governor’s pardon or a court order. Arizona and Nevada offer exceptions for first-time offenders convicted of less serious crimes. And in Wyoming, rights are restored for non-violent felon upon completion of their sentences. A complete description of current rules is listed here.


The United States has among the world’s most restrictive felon disenfranchisement laws.

These state prohibitions disproportionately affect African-Americans, particularly black men: one of every 13 African-Americans of voting age — more than 7 percent nationally —  is disenfranchised, according to Sentencing Project’s analysis. In some of the strictest states, more than 20 percent of the African American population is disenfranchised, the report found.

Conversely, Maine and Vermont, both overwhelmingly white, are the only two states without any felon voting restrictions; even inmates can vote.

“Fundamentally it’s a question of democracy and how we define who can participate,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.  “When people are convicted of felonies, they should  receive the appropriate punishment, but we don’t normally take away their fundamental rights of citizenship.”

Convicted felons, he notes,  even those who are still incarcerated, retain many of their individual rights, including the ability to get married and divorced and to buy and sell property. The First Amendment right to free speech is also mostly preserved for felons (an inmate can write a letter-to-the-editor,  for instance), with limitations generally only having to do with to security-related concerns.

Supporters of felon disenfranchisement laws defend their constitutionality and argue that it’s ultimately for individual states to determine. Some insist that committing a serious crime indicates a strong lack of moral character and trustworthiness, which they say is ample justification for denying the right to vote.

Click here to read a selection of pro and con arguments on the issue.

Despite the growth of the disenfranchised population, several states have started to re-examine their policies.

Mostly recently, the Maryland legislature moved to automatically restore voting rights to felons after their release from prison. The change, which went into effect in March, impacts an estimated 40,000 people who will be able to participate in the upcoming national election.

In April,  Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, issued an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences. The move, however, was struck down in July by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the governor had overstepped his authority by restoring rights all at once rather than on a case by case basis. In response, McAuliffe announced that his administration would individually process applications for 13,000 felons so could have the opportunity to vote in November.

MAP: States Where Convicted Felons Can’t Vote 8 November,2016Matthew Green

  • 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.

      • Elizabeth Davis

        That is a stupid statement

        • reggie98ud

          Not as stupid as replying to a comment from a year ago. That also doesn’t make it any less true.

  • 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..

        • Guest

          If you ever took someone else right to vote away or took a life or injured another severely you should never vote again. Felons lose the right to buy or own firearms for LIFE, voting should be the same. Most get through life without committing a felony, if you can’t tough, move to Canada if they’ll take you.

    • ALFRADO WHITE

      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?

      • DaytonDennis

        I agree, there is due process. As to whether they can vote, there are degrees of felonies. Perhaps the lesser degrees if they file an appeal maybe so. I was charged with a felony because I had a legally carried gun in the wrong parking lot. The judge didn’t convict me, but if he did, do I think I should have been able to vote? Eventually been able to. After a manslaughter conviction? I think not. Even my felony, if properly applied, might have been reason not to allow me. However I was charged on the letter not the spirit of the law and the judge saw that. Saying all that, if I had been convicted and not ever able to vote, would I have felt “disenfranchised”? Nope.

      • Dan Fasking

        There is no grey area. Only people’s opinions are grey areas on this topic. Can you show me in the Constitution where it says felons can’t vote? They didn’t want to restrict criminals, because under tyranny, the government labels many people criminals. Kinda puts a label that can give other people a reason to pre-judge criminals… Wonder where the word prejudice came from? I know alot of criminals that are better people than the Christians I know.

        • 82ATW

          I already showed you in the Constitution where the government has the right to deprive you of your rights.

        • HarryTC

          Obviously, the educational system today doesn’t provide the classes of past decades. In the fifty’s and sixty’s the California educational system required you to pass “Constitution 101”, a drivers education class, and a swimming class, amongst others. Maybe this why there are so many younger people tha do not understand what’s going on in their lives. This appears to be true with politicians, the President has a Constitutional right to defend our Country’s borders, yet some judges are saying that illegals and refugees have more rights that legal citizens.

    • Hood Rat

      Where is your constitutional law degree from? Dickhead

      • Frank Hartzell

        Where,s yours?

        • Hood Rat

          Villanova Law

    • Guest

      WRONG. Sorry if you’re a felon you lose the right to buy and bear firearms. If you harmed someone you should never again vote ever PERIOD. Most of America amazingly go through life without committing a felony. If you do the crime you pay…period voting rights should be one of your payments especially if you took that right away from another even for a day.

  • 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!

      • DaytonDennis

        How’d that orange outfit look on you? Make you look thinner?

        • 95Theses

          Does orange make his butt look to big? ツ

    • Guest

      Essentially YES they should? Murder? Physical or mental harm? Yes they should they inflicted that on others. In some cases they took away others rights even to life? You’re a felon you lose the right to bear and buy firearms, it should also include the right to vote. Most Americans get through life easily without committing a felony, if you can’t tough.

  • 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: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-VOT-R.html.

    • Sonny Nelson

      I might consider that argument if photo identification were required to be shown by every voter in every state and municipality in the United States when a person votes, also proof of residency in the ward and county of the area for six months prior to voting, such proof being a current power bill, rent stub, mortage payment or other document verifying that the voter is a bona fide resident and legal voter in that area. However, this is too stringent a requirement to suit the liberal members of the voting community that believe in votingand voting often often during an election, so it will never stand, even though it would be the most sensible voting requirement other than the one requiring American Citizenship before voting.

      • James Leonard Park

        Good. Voting rights should be re-gained once the ex-offender has completed all required prison-time and time on probation without committing any additional crimes. While in prison, their citizenship should be firmly established. And their parole officer should automatically register the ex-offender at the address of record when the period of parole has been completed. The letter from the voting official explaining where to vote will then become one more sign of re-joining society. For those who did not read it before, here is the complete proposal: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/CY-VOT-R.html

      • DaytonDennis

        Yeah, no one needs ID to drive or to fish and on to on. But electing leaders is trivial let’s let the fraud continue. You want me to have an ID when I buy a gun? Why so? You can do a lot more damage when someone making the laws in put into power by fraud. A lady south of me voted 6 times for Obama and was proud of it. I guarantee this happens tens of thousands of times each election. But that HUGE, HUGE burden of having to have ID, golly gee. There IS a reason some don’t want voter ID (or felons to vote).

  • Elizabeth Davis

    i think if one has done their time with a few exceptions and are living a good life obeying the laws paying thier taxes the should have their rights restored

    • Guest

      Even if they took someone else’s life or right to vote away? You’re a felon you lose the right to buy firearms, should be the same you lose the right to vote your decision in leadership is forfeit you deserve no better.

  • Paul

    last time I checked, you lost rights when convicted and serving time. Why should they be able to vote, while everyone else works hard, obeys the law?

    • Guest

      Exactly right Paul. They lose the right to buy firearms should be the same for voting. In some cases they even took the right for another to live away……

  • The Deplorable Joe H.

    Felons being “disenfranchised” because they can’t vote?? ……. my hairy black azzzz. They committed a crime. Not a misdemeanor but a FELONY. What about the victim who was disenfranchised by the felon?

    • Deborah DirkHaley

      I hope to GOD you are NOT ever in need of medical assistance of any kind any where. Because if you do in your life, you had better to GOD the person who is saving your life is NOT a felon. Are you going to ask them if they are felon? In that case, maybe they should just drive by and let you die right? OK, I get that.

  • Sonny Nelson

    Here again some liberal has made a half assed study concerning voting rights, at least in the case of my state of Alabama.I am employed as a voter registrar in my state, so am familiar with voting rights for ex felons. No one the is in prison is allowed to vote. If you break the law in Alabama, and are convicted of a crime, you disenfranchise yourself. When a felon is released from prison and has served the designated time, completed the requirements of his/her parole, then they may request to be re instated as a franchised voter and will be re instated upon verification that they have completed the sentance as required by law. There are exceptions. Crimes of moral terpitude- murder, treason, rape, will disallow a person’s reinstatement to the voting list, there are no exceptions to this law.

  • tpapa

    I experienced the pain of not being able to vote.when I came home after serving 12 years for a non-violent crime. read about this

    http://buffalonews.com/2016/11/07/another-voice-freed-prisoners-regain-right-vote/

  • melody

    Stop using the word disenfranchised in the same sentence as “felons”!!!! They made certain life choices. They cannot own fire arms for the rest of their lives, so I should be okay with their judgment in choosing a President???? I don’t think so! There is no “disenfranchisement” here! Stop the Liberal abuse of heart strings! It’s not applicable!

    • Dan Fasking

      Felony driving on revoked drivers license? Felony possession of open vehicle title? I have felonies, and they are in no way even crimes. There are many felonies that are so petty. The law is a joke, and felons are still United States citizens. They are your fellow Americans and countrymen. Felons pay for their crimes and yet are still bound by the scarlet letter for life. The label felon. Anyone who looks down their nose at a felon without knowing why they are a felon, is prejudice. But prejudice is ok in this country, right? Your comment is certainly prejudice.

      • DaytonDennis

        Mr. The Laws Don’t Apply to ME

        • Dan Fasking

          Those laws are stupid and shouldn’t apply to anyone.

  • DaytonDennis

    LOL @ “disenfranchised”. They committed a friggin FELONY, for God’s sake. There is a reason there is a difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. “If you can’t do the time….” Yeah, I know the demmies need all the votes they can get – dead, illegal, criminal.

  • Guest

    Liberal Marxists call it “Disenfranchised” sorry, we’re talking about FELONS here not law abiding neighbor citizens. In many cases these individuals harmed or killed someone and took away their rights. Voting rights from victims in some cases for LIFE. My feelings on the matter are simple you’re a felon you lose the right to bear arms, no one argues this. Personally if you’re a felon especially a violent felon it should be the same with voting rights, you lose them for life. Violate that and go back prison should be the law. What we need is a federal law encompassing this, states are too into the politics of buying votes……this another example for all the WRONG reasons.

  • Guest

    Most Americans get through their lives without committing a felony. In some cases felons took away someone else’s right to vote or in some even to LIVE??? Why if they lose the right to bear arms shouldn’t they also lose the right to vote? Not Sorry they should……..Don’t like that move to Canada…..as a felon my guess is they wouldn’t take you.

Author

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: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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