U.S. states vary in their re-enfranchisement criteria. Our chart on state felon disenfranchisement laws describes the variety of procedures different states have enacted for the restoration of voting. Below are documents from some of the states discussed in this section regarding voting re-enfranchisement applications and procedures:
Do State Re-Eenfranchisement Procedures Fairly and Effectively Enable Felons to Regain the Ability to Vote?
Bill McCollum, JD, Florida Attorney General, stated in an April 1, 2007 article in the Orlando Sentinel "McCollum: Be Responsible About Felons' Rights":
"As a matter of justice, respect for crime victims and public safety, Florida takes away the rights of convicted felons to vote, sit on a jury or engage in a state-licensed occupation. Felons lose these rights for a lifetime unless Cabinet officers, sitting as the Clemency Board, agree to restore them. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida's law in 2005, finding it does not violate the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection clause or the Voting Rights Act.
Florida's Constitution and rules currently provide a safety-conscious process to consider restoring a felon's rights. Felons convicted of less serious crimes may have their rights restored without a hearing. Today, the majority of felons receive restoration of civil rights once their sentences are complete."
Melissa C. Chiang, JD, stated in her Fall 2005 article "Some Kind of Process for Felon Reenfranchisement," published in The University of Chicago Law Review:
"Inasmuch as procedural fairness contributes to institutional legitimacy and enhances the state's ostensible purpose, due process should apply to [voting] reenfranchisement just as it does to parole proceedings. [...]
Certainly states are not obligated to implement reenfranchisement regimes: because the Constitution permits felony disenfranchisement, there is no requirement that states review franchise eligibility on an individual basis. However, the elective nature of reenfranchisement does not automatically relieve states of the requirements of due process. [...]
[O]ffering a judicial forum for reenfranchisement makes procedural uniformity wholly appropriate, and the number of people undergoing the process makes it even more imperative to ensure that the process is evenhanded and transparent. [...]
Accordingly, as the use of reenfranchisement has grown in Florida, it has also been increasingly regulated since 2002. Changes in internal policies and court-ordered remedies now place legislative and judicial limitations upon the Board's discretion [...] Finally, even if due process applies, the procedures for reenfranchisement in Alabama, Florida, and Virginia may not necessarily fall short of constitutional standards."
George Allen, JD, Reagan Ranch Presidential Scholar and former Senator and Governor (R) of Virginia, stated in a Feb. 14, 2002 U.S. Senate debate:
"Virginia is one of ten states that permanently prevent... ex-felons from voting. That does not mean their rights can never be restored. Their rights can be restored ... many ex-felons did get their rights back.
There is the record of my successor, who restored the rights of 210 people during his 4-year term. That is less than half of what was restored during the previous three administrations. While I was Governor, I restored 459 ex-felons' right to vote."
Roger Clegg, JD, President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, stated in his Oct. 21, 1999 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution:
"Criminals are, in the aggregate, less likely to be trustworthy, good citizens [...] it would be more prudent to distinguish among various crimes: murder, rape, treason, espionage, and perjury, on the one hand, versus, say, nonviolent drug crimes, on the other.
But this will be a difficult line for Congress to draw, since every state has its own array of offenses. [...] Accordingly, it is wiser for Congress to leave the line-drawing to the states, where it has always been.
This also allows the states to review re-enfranchisement on a case-by-case basis, through an application process."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in an Apr. 5, 2007 press release titled "Florida Clemency Reform Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be, Says ACLU":
"A system that would proactively benefit the majority of the disenfranchised should be automatic, immediate and paperless, not require a tedious, bureaucratic paperwork process and waiting period to receive a certificate of restoration."
Elizabeth A. Wahler, MSW, stated in her Apr. 2006 report for The Sentencing Project titled "Losing the Right to Vote: Perceptions of Permanent Disenfranchisement and the Civil Rights Restoration Application Process in the State of Kentucky:
"Many respondents in this study [in Kentucky] were uninformed about the process to apply to get their voting rights restored, and some even believed that there was no process to apply for restoration of their civil rights. Correct information is essential to enable eligible individuals to complete the process [...]
None of the respondents interviewed were familiar with any of the organizations in the state that can assist with the application process. [...] While the majority of the respondents in this study stated that they felt competent with the written portion of the application, one would suspect that many ex-felons do not feel secure in their writing skills and would be more likely to complete the application process if they knew how to access assistance. [...]
State legislators should examine the wisdom of the current policy and consider placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow voters to support automatic restoration of rights upon completion of sentence. If that is not possible, then the Governor should reconsider the current application process, given the reduced number of applications and successful rights restorations since the change in policy."
Jeff Manza, PhD, Professor of Sociology, and Christopher Uggen, PhD, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology, stated in their 2006 book Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy:
"Adding the burden of a separate clemency procedure to these registration requirements places extraordinary demands on people who have done their time and are merely seeking to vote [...] Requiring ex-felons to navigate a formal process for restoring their voting rights imposes high additional costs of participation upon them. [...]
We conducted a state-by-state canvass of clemency procedures to understand how they work. The process was daunting. Calling state clemency offices, we were often transferred from one administrative office to another, or confronted with two official documents that seemed to make contradictory statements about just who is eligible for clemency and what the appropriate procedures are for application [...] the rules governing reenfranchisement are complex enough to require individualized legal assistance in many cases. [...] Whenever any group of citizens must overcome a set of burdensome, confusing, or invasive prerequisites, their participation rates are likely to decline. [...]
Voting is supposed to be easy, not hard. Yet once we put the restoration process in the large context of voting rights in the United states, it is clear that these procedures operate as a de facto institutional barrier to participation. [...] Avenues to restoration are frequently narrow, dimly lit, and poorly traveled."
Mike Carter, et al., staff writers of The Seattle Times, wrote in a May 22, 2005 article titled "Felon-Voting Laws Confusing, Ignored":
"The system designed to determine if a felon can vote is broken. [...]
The system to prevent felons from voting illegally — and to help them regain the right to vote — is so bewildering that almost nobody negotiates it well. It has been the backwater of election law, alternately ignored or tinkered with to the point that, as King County Superior Court Clerk Barbara Miner observed, 'You need a degree in government to figure it out. I'm sure it's not clear to the average defendant.' [...]
The Times investigation turned up at least four cases where it appeared felons had not had their rights restored — despite being eligible — because of a clerical error or failure by authorities to follow the law.
Others have won back their right to vote, but the documentation isn't in their court files. As a result, they've been hounded by prosecutors and vilified by the political parties as illegal voters."