Felon Voting Rights: What You Need to Know About Voting After a Conviction
Restoration of voting rights before the midterm primary and general elections
We’re in the thick of primary election season! That’s when you get the chance to choose the candidate you’d like to see on the 2022 midterm election ballot this November. Voting requires forethought and planning, and if you have been convicted of a crime, or you are or were recently incarcerated, then you’ll need to do some extra research before register to vote and casting a ballot following restoration of rights.
Felony disenfranchisement affects close to six million Americans, with Black Americans disproportionately impacted.
- Restoration is a voting rights - and civil rights - issue. Fortunately, many states are considering legislation to make registering and voting easier once you’ve completed a sentence (probation, prison, and/or parole) for a felony. Misdemeanors usually don’t impact your voting rights.
- Thanks to nation-wide attention and advocacy, several congressmembers have introduced legislation that would implement automatic restoration to vote for those with convictions: The Democracy Restoration Act, Freedom to Vote Act, and For the People Act would each restore the right to vote for all Americans upon completion of incarceration instead of after parole, pardon from a governor, or request for reinstatement.
- None have passed, but several state legislators have already taken initiative by introducing their own bills. As reported by the Voting Rights Lab, as of May, 27 states have introduced 160 bills that address voting for citizens who served, or are serving, prison sentences.
- To be sure, some propose additional restrictions, there are 9 such bills in seven states. Kentucky’s SB 149, for example, aims to remove the governor’s power to pardon individuals. But the vast majority of the 160 new bills seek to expand upon current rights.
How should you get started? First, check US Vote’s summary of your state’s specific voting rights restoration policy:
As you’ll see, each state has different election rules on how to register, how to vote, and what, if any, ID you need. And these differences extend to disenfranchisement laws (taking away your right to vote post-conviction) and whether you can vote following a conviction. In many states, your right to vote will be restored after completing your sentence. Three states – Maine, Puerto Rico, and Vermont – as well as the District of Columbia permit you to vote while incarcerated. This is great news!
If you’re eligible to vote, you will need to register – or re-register, in most instances – by your state’s deadline.
But before you register to vote, it’s important to:
(1) get clear on the specifics of your conviction
(2) understand the length and type of your sentence and whether you are still on parole or probation
(3) identify your state’s rules on voting post-conviction.
If you need help with some of these questions, talk with your lawyer, court representative, or probation/parole officer. You can also use our directory to contact your local election office if you have questions.
Here is a breakdown of states’ enfranchisement rules on the right to vote following a conviction and completion of their sentence:
- States where you may vote while still in prison:
District of Columbia, Maine, Puerto Rico, and Vermont
- States where you may vote after release from prison, even if you’re still on parole:
American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington
- States where you may vote only after you’ve completed your full sentence, which may include any combination of probation, prison, and parole:
Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Northern Marianas Islands, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and Wisconsin
- States that treat different crimes differently, for example, if you are convicted of a felony of “moral turpitude” in Alabama, then if most cases, you must first apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV) or obtain a pardon from the governor. Non-violent felonies, on the other hand, usually don’t require such applications:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming
- States where you are permanently disenfranchised post-felony conviction unless you have received a pardon from the governor (either by an individual pardon or through mass pardons facilitated by an executive order):
Iowa and Virginia
If your right to vote has been restored, remember that in most cases, you will have to (re-)register to vote before you can cast a ballot. You can both check your voter registration and request an absentee ballot using U.S. Vote Foundation's voter services. Do it well before the election deadline to ensure you receive it and can submit it completed within time.
Leaders from law enforcement, religious communities, and probation and parole associations, including from department of corrections, agree that one’s past offense should not bar them from voting – especially since voting is a way to contribute positively to your community.
For a truly democratic society, restoration of voting rights must be addressed nationwide. Indeed, restoring the right to vote would get this country closer to full participation.
Remember: an informed citizen is a powerful one. Every eligible citizen should be a voter.