In the US, almost all people with felony convictions lose their voting rights for a certain period.
States set rules about how a felony conviction affects a resident’s ability to vote. Most states automatically restore voting rights either after release from prison or after probation or parole. Some states automatically restore voting rights under specific circumstances, depending on the nature of the crime or an individual’s criminal history. Meanwhile, two states, plus Washington, DC, never revoke the voting rights of individuals convicted of a felony.
At the end of 2021, more than 1.2 million people were incarcerated in state or federal prisons, according to the Department of Justice.
Incarcerated people from Maine, Vermont, and Washington, DC, can vote from prison. These incarcerated groups were less than 1% of the total US prison population in 2021. Federal prisoners registered to vote in these places may vote while incarcerated, even if the federal prison is in a different state.
Prisoners in state-run prisons outside of these states and Washington, DC, may still request absentee ballots if their last address before incarceration was in one of those jurisdictions. However, voting absentee from an out-of-state prison may be more challenging because prison officials are not required to help inmates vote.
In 23 states, those with felony convictions automatically regain the right to vote when they are released from prison. This means that formerly incarcerated people can vote while serving probation or while out on parole. These states represented about 36% of the total prison population in 2021, according to the Justice Department.
In 14 states, people formerly incarcerated for felonies automatically regain the right to vote after completing their entire sentence, including probation or parole (and, in some states, payment of certain court-appointed fines and fees). In 2021, about 30% of the total prison population came from these 14 states.
Six states — Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Wyoming — automatically restore voting rights for certain crimes, such as nonviolent felonies. The specific crimes disqualifying former prisoners from automatic voting right restoration varies from state to state, but most commonly includes homicide, sexual crimes, and certain theft crimes.
In these states, the process of regaining voting rights occurs after release from prison, while others require the completion of probation or parole. However, in all these states, individuals convicted of a crime disqualifying them from automatic restoration of voting rights can only regain their rights through a pardon, legislative action, judicial order, or by submitting another kind of application or petition.
Wyoming automatically restores voting rights to first-time offenders with nonviolent felony convictions, but not to repeat offenders or people convicted of violent felonies.
In Nebraska, people formerly incarcerated for felonies must wait two years after completing their full sentence before automatically restoring their right to vote. Similarly, in Arizona, repeat offenders can petition the court for restoration of voting rights two years after the completion of their sentence, while first-time offenders have their voting rights restored automatically.
In the remaining three states (Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia), formerly incarcerated people with felonies who do not qualify for automatic restoration of rights must petition the court or state government. In Virginia and Tennessee, this petition process is the only way to restore voting rights.
A person’s voting rights can be permanently revoked for conviction of certain crimes. In some states, voting rights cannot be restored after a murder conviction, certain felonious sex offenses, or election-related crimes. Some of the 39 states that otherwise automatically restore voting rights to all former prisoners have specific voting restrictions for people who commit election-related crimes.
Voting laws pertaining to convicted felons are changing in several states through court cases, legislation, and executive action.
Based on how many prisoners are under each state’s jurisdiction. Prisoners may not be under the jurisdiction of the same state where they vote. About 13% of the prison population has an unknown state because they are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
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