An estimated 5.26 million people (as of 2004) with a felony conviction are barred from voting in federal, state, and local elections - a condition known as disenfranchisement. Each state has its own laws regarding whether or not a person convicted of a felony can retain the ability to vote. Two states, Vermont and Maine, allow convicted felons to vote while in prison. Nine states permanently restrict certain felons from voting (until and if granted the state governor's pardon) even if those people have served their prison sentence, parole, probation, and paid all fines. The remaining 36 states fall somewhere in between. Given the large number of disenfranchised felons relative to the small margins of victory in some elections, the disenfranchised population could have significant political power to influence elections for one party or another. Examples include: 2008’s Senate race with Franken vs. Coleman in Minnesota (about 300 votes difference in a state with over 38,000 disenfranchised felons); 2004’s Gubernatorial race with Gregoire vs. Rossi in Washington (133 votes difference in a state with over 167,000 disenfranchised felons); and 2000’s Presidential race with Gore vs. Bush in Florida (537 votes difference in a state with over 1.1 million disenfranchised voters).
With few organizations exploring this controversy, we opted to invest our resources so the issue could be more widely debated.
PRO Felon Voting
CON Felon Voting
PRO: Some proponents believe the legal ability to vote should not be tied to moral or ethical actions, and even people convicted of serious crimes should be allowed to vote. Some claim that felons who have paid their debt to society by concluding their sentences should have all of their rights and privileges restored, including voting. They believe that efforts to block ex-felons from voting are unfair, undemocratic, and often politically or racially motivated. Proponents also argue that banning convicted felons from voting further detaches them from society, thus increasing the chances that they will continue to commit crimes.
CON: Some opponents believe that felon voting restrictions are consistent with other voting restrictions such as age, residency, sanity, etc., and consistent with other felon restrictions such as no guns for violent offenders and no sex offenders near schools. Many claim Democrats care about this topic because felons do not usually vote for Republicans. Opponents also argue that convicted people have shown poor judgement by committing felony-level crimes and should not be trusted to influence decisions that affect others by voting.