Voting Rights

Bringing Back the Vote for Disenfranchised Americans

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Felony disenfranchisement reforms in 23 states have restored voting rights to 1.4 million people over the last two decades, yet 6 million more Americans with felony convictions will be unable to vote this November, according to a new report from the Sentencing Project. Nearly 4.7 million of the 6 million disenfranchised are not in prison, but live in a state that blocks people who are on probation or parole, or who have completed their sentence and community supervision, from voting.

The Sentencing Project report gives a state-by-state account of the felony disenfranchisement reforms between 1997 and 2018 that have slowly expanded the right to vote across the nation.

A handful of states, including Florida and Kentucky, place a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of felonies. Since 1997, lawmakers and voters in seven states either abolished or amended lifetime felony voter restrictions.

Just two states–Maine and Vermont–do not bar people with felony convictions from voting, even while they’re incarcerated.

Since the mid 1990s, six states expanded voting rights to some or all people under community supervision.

During that time, seventeen states made it easier for disenfranchised residents to have their voting rights reinstated.

The State of Felony Disenfranchisement in California

California law currently disenfranchises people convicted of felonies who are serving time in state or federal prison or who are on parole. Californians with felonies on their records can, however, vote once they have completed parole. Californians in jails and on probation are not precluded from voting.

In 2011, the Realignment Act (AB 109) shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California state prison system—the largest in the nation until recently—to the states’ 58 counties.

In the wake of AB 109’s passage, then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen directed local election officials to ban approximately 60,000 people under community supervision via realignment from voting. The ACLU, the League of Women Voters, and other groups sued the state over Bowen’s decision, arguing that legislators intended realignment’s community supervision to be an alternative to parole for those low-level offenders, and that people in this category shouldn’t be treated (or disenfranchised) the same as state parolees. The judge ruled in favor of the advocacy groups and of restoring the right to vote.

Then by signing AB 2466 in 2016, Governor Jerry Brown affirmed the voting rights of AB 109ers serving time in jail and under community supervision.

The court decision and the bill restored voting rights to an estimated 95,000 people, according to the report.

As of 2016, more than 222,000 people with felonies on their records were disenfranchised in California. The number represents .74 percent of the state’s adult population. In contrast, the more than 63,000 black disenfranchised Californians represent 3.41 percent of the state’s black population.

California is not alone in disenfranchising black residents at disproportionate rates.

Nationwide, one in every 13 black adults is ineligible to vote, thanks to felony voting restrictions. In contrast, 1 in every 56 non-black voters is disenfranchised.

In Kentucky where people with felony convictions face a lifetime voting ban, 9.14 percent of the general adult population and an incredible 26.15 percent of black adults were barred from voting as of 2016.

Florida also tacks a lifetime voting ban onto felonies, and disenfranchised 10.43 percent of the general population and 21.35 percent of its black population. An incredible 1.7 million people are denied voting rights in Florida, although the state has enacted modest reforms since 1997 that have restored those rights to approximately 228,000 people.

Next month, Florida voters will also decide whether to end the onerous lifetime voting ban.

Unfortunately, because states’ voting rights are so varied, inmates and the formerly incarcerated across the country are often unaware of their voting rights. Often, this confusion keeps eligible people from voting. But in some troubling cases, people are prosecuted and convicted for voting while legally ineligible to vote.

“Denying the right to vote to an entire class of citizens is deeply problematic to a democratic society and counterproductive to effective reentry,” says the Sentencing Project. Despite the dozens of reforms restoring voting rights across states, “there is still much to be done before the United States will resemble comparable nations in allowing the full democratic participation of its citizens.”

Image: PXhere.


  • If you’re not willing to follow the law yourself then you should not have a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you’re doing directly or indirectly when you vote. The right to vote should be restored only after the felon shows he has turned over a new leaf—not automatically on release from prison, since the unfortunate truth is that most felons will be returning to prison.

  • I’m guessing people who support the right of felons to vote are pretty sure they’re going to get the felons’s vote.

  • If they can vote, then could do some time in the military. Just like Vietnam. Save money and send them to the military. Earn your keep, no ssi, food stamps, free housing and the other free stuff they get for committing a crime

  • I wouldn’t want to further enhence the often violent behavior of a convicted and released felon with military training. I seem to remember when a lot of gang members, and white supremicidy were joining the military and using their training and knowledge to further their criminal enterprise once they were out. No way should a convicted felon be given the honor to serve in the US military. The French Foreign Legion has a no questions asked policy still…I think.

    I hate to say it, but forced labor or chain gang of some type is the best way to let a released convict repay society, earn a living and perhaps develop a usefull and marketable skillset.

  • I say we let every single one of them out. Give them their property back with the addition of a care package full of Fentynol and a small room they can meditate in.

    They can think about the life lessons they learned while incarcerated and ponder what effects all the tax payer funded programs they took had upon them.

  • All wonderful ideas. This site attracts the best and brightest. Celeste, I would welcome your thoughts on the great ideas these fine men have. I would share my thoughts, but I am afraid of getting blocked so soon after your warning. (See, Madame Kong, Celeste and I are two different people). Can’t help but feel secure and proud that that we have these fine men, with these great ideas, out there protecting us and interacting with the public, especially our African-American citizens.

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