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.
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.
How many states automatically restore felons’ voting rights after release?
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.
How many states automatically restore voting rights after probation or parole?
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.
Can felons in these states get their voting rights restored?
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.
How are voting laws for felons changing?
Voting laws pertaining to convicted felons are changing in several states through court cases, legislation, and executive action.
Virginia fully disenfranchises everyone convicted of a felony, and the only way to restore voting rights is to receive a pardon from the governor. Former Gov. Ralph Northam established a process to restore voting rights by executive action to everyone who had completed their incarceration sentence. His successor, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, discontinued that practice.
In 2021, a new law in Connecticut restored the right to vote for convicted felons upon release from prison. Before this, convicted felons had to be released from a community residence such as a group home or mental health facility, discharged from parole, and pay all fines related to their charges to regain their right to vote.
In March 2023, New Mexico updated its voting laws to restore voting rights to people immediately upon release from prison. Previously, New Mexico restored rights after parole or probation.
In June 2023, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that someone who was convicted of a felony in another state and had their voting rights restored must prove that they have paid all court costs and related fees in that other state before being able to vote in Tennessee.
Tennessee is defending its restoration process in an ongoing lawsuit brought by the Tennessee Conference of the NAACP.
Depending on the date of the conviction, Tennessee denies voting rights to people convicted of murder, rape, sexual offenses involving minors, treason, and voter fraud. Felons convicted of other crimes can petition a court to regain their voting rights or request a pardon from the governor, but they must have a probation officer, parole officer, or other court official fill out the form.
As of June 2023, a new Minnesota law automatically restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony immediately upon release from prison. Previously, Minnesota granted restoration of voting rights after a parole or probation period.
In August 2023, a federal appeals court overturned Mississippi’s lifetime ban on voting for people convicted of certain felonies: murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, or bigamy.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that a lifetime loss of voting rights continues to punish people beyond the term of their sentence and constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”
However, the state of Mississippi has since appealed and requested the case be re-heard by the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The request was granted, meaning the last ruling has been vacated. The date of the next hearing hasn’t yet been set.
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.