Felon Voting
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Last updated on: 8/12/2014 4:10:00 PM PST

Should felons who have completed their sentence (incarceration, probation, and parole) be allowed to vote?


PRO (yes) CON (no)
Eric H. Holder, JD, US Attorney General, stated the following in his Feb. 11, 2014 speech "Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform at Georgetown University Law Center," available at www.justice.gov:
"In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books. And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore – it is also too unjust to tolerate...

Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions. That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states. And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable...

...It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed. And so today, I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across the country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines."

Feb. 11, 2014 - Eric H. Holder, JD 

The Washington Post stated the following in its July 29, 2012 editorial "A Lifetime Sentence for Felons," available at washingtonpost.com:
"In Virginia, Kentucky and Florida, felon disenfranchisement affects a staggering one in five African Americans. There’s no excuse for that.

The underlying question is why these states disenfranchise felons who’ve served their sentences, paid their dues and rejoined their communities. According to the Sentencing Project, of the 5.85 million Americans subject to felon disenfranchisement, almost half, or 2.6 million, are out of prison. If a purpose of punishment is to rehabilitate persons to become functioning members of society upon their release, why would you deprive those who succeed of a fundamental right of citizenship?

Although states have made advances in restoring voting rights to felons who’ve completed parole, the franchise should be automatically restored after a sentence is completed, as it is in Maryland."

July 29, 2012 - The Washington Post 

The New York Times stated the following in a July 15, 2012 editorial "Disenfranchised Felons," available at www.nytimes.com:
"The number of Americans who cannot vote because they have been convicted of a felony continues to grow...

About a quarter are in prison, but the rest have completed their sentences or are on probation or parole. The only reason not to let them vote is to stigmatize them or to continue punishing them...

These limits are seriously counterproductive. Former offenders who are allowed to vote are less likely to return to prison and more likely to become reintegrated into their communities...

The disproportionate number of blacks among the disenfranchised remains a huge racial justice problem...

Until the criminal system is made fairer, the number of people disenfranchised will grow, with blacks unfairly excluded from voting at a much higher rate."


July 15, 2012 - New York Times 

John Conyers, Jr., LLB, Member of the US House of Representatives (D-MI), stated the following during a Mar. 16, 2005 congressional address:
"The United States may have the most restrictive disenfranchisement policy in the world. Such prohibitions on the right to vote undermine both the voting system and the fundamental rights of ex-offenders."

Mar. 16, 2005 - John Conyers, Jr., LLB 

Jamin Raskin, JD, Professor of Law and Director of the Law and Government Program at the Washington College of Law at American University, stated the following in his Spring 2005 article "Lawful Disenfranchisement: America’s Structural Democracy Deficit," published in Human Rights Magazine:
"Felon disenfranchisement is obviously not a strategy of penal deterrence, for it deters no one; or individual rehabilitation, for it clearly educates and reforms no one; or even meaningful punishment, as it is not part of sentencing but is simply imposed on all convicts, regardless of the character of their offense. Rather, it is a strategy of mass electoral suppression, a point that becomes especially vivid when we consider that 1.7 million former offenders have been permanently disenfranchised in eight states, disproportionately in the Deep South...

A right-to-vote constitutional amendment could enfranchise all people who have been convicted of felonies and stripped of their voting rights or the subgroup of ex-offenders in eight states who have successfully served their time but still remain disenfranchised... This commonsense proposal likely would pass."

Spring 2005 - Jamin Raskin, JD 

Marc Mauer, MSW, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, stated the following in his Feb. 11, 2014 article "Response by The Sentencing Project to AG Holder's Call for Felony Disenfranchisement Reform," available at sentencingproject.org:
"A half century after passage of the Voting Rights Act nearly six million Americans are prohibited from voting due to antiquated laws that are anathema to a democratic society. The racial disparities that plague the criminal justice system are transformed into restrictions on voting that dilute the political power of communities of color. Just as the use of incarceration in the United States is extreme by the norms of industrialized nations, so too are our felony disenfranchisement policies...

Disenfranchisement laws also establish barriers to reentry from prison. By sending a message of ‘second class citizenship,’ these policies work against the goal of integrating citizens back into the community and are counterproductive for public safety goals."

Feb. 11, 2014 - Marc Mauer, MSW 

Jeff Manza, PhD, Professor of Sociology at New York University, and Christopher Uggen, PhD, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, stated the following in their 2006 book Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy:
"In the United States today, by far the largest group of citizens who are denied the right to vote are those who have received a felony conviction... The disenfranchisement of such a large group of felons, and former felons, from participation in democratic elections threatens the health of American democracy in a number of ways...

While states have legitimate reasons to compel felons to make restitution to their victims, and to punish recidivists or violent offenders more harshly than others, there are no logical reasons for imposing disenfranchisement in such cases."

2006 - Jeff Manza, PhD 
Christopher Uggen, PhD 

Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, and The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice organization promoting alternatives to incarceration, stated the following in their Oct. 1998 article "Losing The Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States" available at www.sentencingproject.org:
"Felony voting restrictions in the U.S. are political anachronisms reflecting values incompatible with modern democratic principles. At the edge of the millennium these laws have no purpose. To the contrary, they arbitrarily deny convicted offenders the ability to vote regardless of the nature of their crimes or the severity of their sentences, they create political 'outcasts' from taxpaying, law-abiding citizens who are ex-offenders, they distort the country’s electoral process and they diminish the black vote, countering decades of voting rights gains...

Given the major impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on the voting population, and in particular their strikingly disproportionate impact on African Americans, policymakers should consider alternative policies that will better protect voting rights without injury to legitimate state criminal justice interests. We believe the best course of action would be to remove conviction-based restrictions on voting rights. At the federal level, Congress should enact legislation to restore voting rights in federal elections to citizens convicted of a felony, so that the ability to vote in federal elections is not subject to varying state laws. State legislatures should also eliminate state laws that curtail the franchise for persons with felony convictions within their states."

Oct. 1998 - The Sentencing Project 
Human Rights Watch 

Charlie Crist, Jr., JD, then Governor of the State of Florida, stated the following in his Apr. 3, 2007 article "Wednesday My View: Florida Must Begin Automatic Restoration of Ex-offender Rights," available at www.tallahassee.com:
"Like Florida, many Southern states struggling through the Jim Crow era resisted calls to change their laws denying the restoration of civil rights. Since then, all but five of these states have realized the historical underpinning for denying the restoration of civil rights and repealed these unjust laws.

Some who favor the current system argue that restoring civil rights is somehow 'weak on crime,' as if restoring the right to vote, to serve on a jury or to work lessens the punishment or encourages a person to commit new crimes.

In fact, the opposite should be true. Giving a person a meaningful way to re-enter society, make a living and participate in our democracy will incentivize good behavior."

Apr. 3, 2007 - Charlie Crist, Jr., JD 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated the following in the introduction to its webpage "Felon Enfranchisement," accessible at www.aclu.org (accessed Jan. 20, 2009):
"Millions of Americans are barred from the polls because of felony convictions. Voting is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of our democracy, yet millions of Americans have had their right to vote revoked for periods ranging from the time spent incarcerated to a lifetime. In 10 states, you can lose your right to vote for life. The ACLU is fighting to restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people so that they, like all Americans, will be heard."

Jan. 20, 2009 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 

Alec C. Ewald, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, stated the following in his Mar. 7, 2005 article "An Agenda for Demolition: The Fallacy and the Danger of the Subversive Voting Argument for Felony Disenfranchisement," published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review:
"[T]he case for barring people convicted of crime from voting is not a practical one at all, but a jumble of conjectures, ill-informed fears, and mystical images of the body politic, all piled on top of social theories three hundred years in age...

At a minimum, proponents of any restrictive policy in a modern democracy must explain how the proposed exclusion would strengthen our democracy and protect the public good. Advocates of disenfranchisement fail that test."

Mar. 7, 2005 - Alec C. Ewald, PhD 

Reynolds Holding, JD, Columnist at Time magazine, stated the following in his Nov. 1, 2006 article "Why Can't Felons Vote?," published in Time magazine:
"We should be finding ways to get more voters to the polls, not looking for excuses to keep them away. So instead of prohibiting felons from voting, let's require them to do it. That way, they will continue to repay their debt to society, long after they walk out of prison."

Nov. 1, 2006 - Reynolds Holding, JD 

S. David Mitchell, JD, Scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado Department of Sociology, stated the following in his Dec. 2004 article "The New Invisible Man: Felon Disenfranchisement Laws Harm Communities," published in Bad Subjects:
"Felon disenfranchisement laws violate the tenets of criminal law theory, and undermine citizenship for the individual ex-felon and the communities to which ex-felons belong...

To impose a permanent ban or to require an additional waiting period on the quintessential element of citizenship, the right to vote, is to deny that which is given by birth or achieved by naturalization — citizenship. The right to vote has been jealously guarded since the founding of the United States.

It has taken constitutional amendments and legislative acts for all groups to be granted the right to vote, and thereby recognized as full citizenships. Legally, African-Americans have achieved the status of citizen. Practically, African-Americans have to continue to fight obstacles set up to deny their citizenship. Historically, in a number of United States' jurisdictions, African-Americans have had to challenge poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, whites-only primaries, and felon disenfranchisement laws, all designed to prohibit them from voting and thus negate their citizenship.

All of the other forms of disenfranchisement have fallen by the wayside, save one — felon disenfranchisement laws."

Dec. 2004 - S. David Mitchell, JD 

Global Exchange, an international human rights organization, stated the following in its Apr. 7, 2007 article "Felon Disenfranchisement; Taxation Without Representation: End Felon Disenfranchisement," available at www.globalexchange.org:
"Permanent disenfranchisement of former felons, a practice that falls outside of international or even U.S. norms, is an unreasonable restriction that creates subcategories of citizenship in the United States. Ex-felons are expected to contribute to society as gainfully employed citizens, pay taxes and raise families, but their disenfranchisement gives them no say in how those tax dollars are spent, who sits on their children’s school board, or who represents their interests in government.

As a result of various changes in state laws, as well as extensive grassroots efforts, an increasing number of Americans with a felony conviction are regaining their voting rights. While public opinion data clearly shows strong support for reform - 80% of the public supports the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentences, and 64% and 62% respectively support the right of probationers and parolees to vote, more must be done.

States that permanently disenfranchise felons—Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, Arizona and Alabama -— should amend their laws and practices to restore full citizenship rights to ex-offenders. In addition, in states where voting rights of ex-felons can be restored upon release, authorities should disseminate clear and precise materials in a variety of media informing ex-felons of their restored rights."

Apr. 7, 2007 - Global Exchange 

Pam Bondi, JD, Florida Attorney General, stated the following in her Mar. 16, 2011 article "Clemency Shift Upholds Rule of Law," available at tampabay.com:
"[E]very felony is a serious breach of the bonds that unite our society. Rather than obligate the government to initiate the restoration process, it is reasonable to require felons to ask to have their rights restored. Also, felons should demonstrate rehabilitation by living crime-free during a waiting period after the completion of their sentences...

[F]elons earned the designation of convicted felon by breaking the law, so they should also earn the restoration of civil rights by abiding by the law and applying... The 'paid their debt' argument also wrongly suggests that completion of a criminal sentence signals rehabilitation."

Mar. 16, 2011 - Pam Bondi, JD 

Rick Scott, JD, Governor of Florida, stated the following in a Mar. 9, 2011 press release "Governor Scott and Florida Cabinet Discuss Amended Rules of Executive Clemency," available at fpc.state.fl.us:
"Felons seeking restoration of rights will also be required to demonstrate that they desire and deserve clemency by applying only after they have shown they are willing to abide by the law...

Restoration of civil rights will not be granted ‘automatically’ for any offenses...

The Restoration of Civil Rights can be a significant part of the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and can assist them in reentry into society. It is important that this form of clemency be granted in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that prioritizes public safety and creates incentives to avoid criminal activity."

Mar. 9, 2011 - Rick Scott, JD 

Roger Clegg, JD, President and General Counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, stated the following in his Feb. 12, 2013 article "Eric Holder’s Call for Felon Reenfranchisement," published in National Review:
"We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility, trustworthiness, and commitment to our laws that we require of people before they are entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. And so we don’t allow everyone to vote: not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not people who have been convicted of committing serious crimes against their fellow citizens.

The right to vote can be restored, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis, once a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf."

Feb. 12, 2013 - Roger Clegg, JD 

Bill McCollum, JD, then Florida Attorney General, stated the following in his Apr. 1, 2007 article "McCollum: Be Responsible About Felons' Rights," published in the Orlando Sentinel:
"The campaign to automatically restore civil rights to nearly all felons upon release from prison, with no waiting period and no hearing to determine if those felons will go right back to a life of crime, is reckless and irresponsible...

The revolving-door effect of restoring felons' rights only then to revoke them due to a new criminal offense would diminish the integrity of our democratic government and the rule of law. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, nearly 40 percent of offenders commit another crime within three years of release and 45 percent do so within five years...

Rather than automatically restore rights to violent repeat offenders, we should ensure fairness in the clemency process by immediately eliminating the backlog, as I previously proposed. But for Florida's serious career criminals, this motto ought to apply: A person who breaks the law should not make the law."

Apr. 1, 2007 - Bill McCollum, JD 

The Washington Times stated in its Nov. 26, 2007 editorial "Another No Vote on Felons," published in the Washington Times:
"Even in nearby Massachusetts, no stranger to progressivism, voters in 2000 supported a constitutional amendment to bar inmates from voting. The reason is clear: Most people think perpetrators of serious crimes have violated the public trust and cannot be permitted to help determine the future of the communities they harmed.

[F]or the time being, the voters' good sense about the possible scenarios - the advent of new constituencies of prisoners whom politicians court for votes, for instance - still prevails. As does the sense that most of the time, in most of the country, serious lawbreakers should not help elect the country's lawmakers."

Nov. 26, 2007 - Washington Times 

Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., JD, then Governor of Maryland, was quoted as stating the following in a Feb. 15, 2006 article "Ehrlich to Veto Bill on Felons," published in the Washington Times:
"I don't think you reward the franchise to those who commit the most horrific crimes. Full restoration of every right is inappropriate."

Feb. 15, 2006 - Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., JD 

George Brooks, JD, attorney, stated the following in his Sep. 2005 article "Felon Disenfranchisement: Law, History, Policy, and Politics," published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal:
"Felon disenfranchisement is plainly constitutional and consistent with the intent of the framers of both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. It is a practice with deep roots in history that continues to be widely utilized today."

Sep. 2005 - George Brooks, JD 

Tucker Carlson, Host, MSNBC Tucker show, stated the following during a June 26, 2006 episode of the Tucker show:
"Now why would we, as citizens, as non-felon citizens, want felons helping to pick our representatives. If you're a convicted felon, convicted of a violent crime, you have bad judgment. Why do we want people with that judgment picking our representatives?"

June 26, 2006 - Tucker Carlson 

The Daily Leader stated the following in an Oct. 23, 2006 editorial "Voting Should be Reserved for Law-Abiding Citizens," available at dailyleader.com:
"Although far too few people exercise it, voting is a sacred right belonging to all law-abiding citizens. When citizens become no longer law-abiding, it is necessary to take their voting rights away...

Why should a convicted felon - who has broken at least one law serious enough to warrant the loss of his voting rights - have an easy path to voting rights restoration?"

Oct. 23, 2006 - Daily Leader 

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