Last updated on: 5/26/2020 | Author: ProCon.org

Historical Timeline

US History of Felon Voting / Disenfranchisement

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1100 BC-1799

1100 BC - 16th Century - 'Civil Death' Used as Punishment for Crime in Ancient Athens, Ancient Rome, and Medieval Europe

Artist's rendition of an ancient Roman courtroom
Source: New York Public Library, "Trial Scene In a Roman Court," digitalgallery.nypl.org (accessed June 28, 2013)

"In Athens and other Greek city-states [approximately 1100 BC - 400 BC], the status of atimia [literally without honor, a form of disenfranchisement] was imposed upon criminal offenders. This status carried the loss of many citizenship rights, including the right to participate in the polis (polity). Of course, only elites had those rights to begin with, so disenfranchisement [losing the ability to vote] was a penalty imposed on deviant elites.

In ancient Rome, the related punishment of infamia [loss of public rights] could be imposed on criminal offenders. In this case, the principle penalties were loss of suffrage and the right to serve in the Roman legions (a desired opportunity)...

In medieval [a historical period ending in the 16th Century] Europe, the legal doctrines of 'civil death' and 'outlawry' carried forward similar notions. As with atimia, those punished with civil death generally suffered a complete loss of citizenship rights (in some early Germanic texts, outlaw status meant a 'loss of peace' that was comparable to becoming a wolf, since the outlaw had to 'live in the forest'). In extreme cases, civil death could be injurious or fatal, since outlaws could be killed by anyone with impunity, or have their property seized. In most medieval contexts, political rights held little substantive meaning. But the civil death model carried over into parts of modern criminal law."

Jeff Manza, PhD and Christopher Uggen, PhD Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, 2006

1607 - 1776 - Practice of 'Civil Death' Is Carried over to the British Colonies in America

"Criminal disenfranchisement has its roots in the punishment of 'civil death,' imposed for criminal offences under Greek, Roman, Germanic and later Anglo-Saxon law. English law developed the related punishment of attainder which resulted in forfeiture of all property, inability to inherit or devise property, and loss of all civil rights. These principles were transplanted to the British colonies [the first British settlement was established at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607] which later became Canada and the United States [in 1776]."

Debora Parkes, LLM     "Ballot Boxes Behind Bars: Toward the Repeal of Prisoner Disenfranchisement Laws," Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review, Fall 2003

1764 - 1776 - Public Debate Ensues in the British Colonies over Whether Voting Is a Right or a Privilege

"[A]side from property qualifications, there were no firm principles governing colonial voting rights, and suffrage [voting] laws accordingly were quite varied.... In practice, moreover, the enforcement of application of suffrage laws was uneven and dependent on local circumstances...

[T]he revolutionary period [roughly 1764-1776]... witnessed heated public exchanges and sharp political conflict over the [voting] franchise... Implicit in these arguments was the claim that voting was not a right but a privilege, one that the state could legitimately grant or curtail in its own interest...

Yet there was a problem with this vision of suffrage as a right... there was no way to argue that voting was a right or a natural right without opening a Pandora's box. If voting was a natural right, then everyone should possess it...

[S]everal important legal and jurisdictional issues also were shaped, or structured, during the revolutionary period. The first was that suffrage was defined as a constitutional issue... Implicit in this treatment was the notion that suffrage requirements ought to be durable and difficult to change."

Alexander Keyssar, PhD     The Right to Vote, 2000

1789 - US Constitution Forges a Link Between Voting in National Elections and State Suffrage Rules

Artist's rendition of the signing of the United States Constitution in 1789
Source: "Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States," commons.wikimedia.org (accessed June 28, 2013)

"Under the Articles of Confederation [ratified in 1777], the states had retained complete control over the [voting] franchise. But the Constitution of the United States forged a link between state suffrage rules and the right to vote in national elections: those who participated in elections for the 'most numerous Branch of the state legislature'... there was no formal debate about the possibility of a national standard more inclusive than the laws already prevailing in the states. Indeed, the records of the federal convention and state constitutional conventions suggest that most members of the new nation's political leadership did not favor a more democratic franchise...

By making the franchise in national elections dependent on state suffrage laws, the authors of the Constitution compromised their substantive disagreements to solve a potentially explosive political problem... citizenship in the new nation - controlled by the federal government - was divorced from the right to vote."

Alexander Keyssar, PhD     The Right to Vote, 2000

Apr. 19, 1792 - Kentucky Constitution Is First among US States to Establish Criminal Disenfranchisement

Kentucky's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude from... suffrage those who thereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

July 9, 1793 - Vermont Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Vermont's state constitution is ratified. It gives authority to the state supreme court to disenfranchise those guilty of bribery, corruption, or other crimes.

1800-1849

Nov. 29, 1802 - Ohio Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Ohio's state constitution is ratified. It states "The legislature shall have full power to exclude from the privilege of voting... any person convicted of bribery, perjury, or otherwise infamous crime."

1802 Ohio Constitution , Nov. 29, 1802

Jan. 22, 1812 - Louisiana Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Louisiana's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude from... suffrage those who shall thereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors." It also specifically bars from voting those convicted of being "engaged in a duel with deadly weapons against a citizen of Louisiana."

June 10, 1816 - Indiana Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Indiana's state constitution is ratified. It states "The General Assembly shall have full power to exclude from the privilege of electing, or being elected, any person convicted of an infamous crime."

July 7, 1817 - Mississippi Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Mississippi's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude from... suffrage, those who shall thereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors."

Oct. 12, 1818 - Connecticut Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Connecticut's state constitution is ratified. It bars from voting "those convicted of bribery, forgery, perjury, dueling, fraudulent bankruptcy, theft, or other offense for which an infamous punishment is inflicted."

July 5, 1819 - Alabama Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Alabama's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude from... suffrage... those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

June 12, 1820 - Missouri Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Missouri's state constitution is ratified. It states "The General Assembly shall have power to exclude... from the right of suffrage, all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime." The constitution also specifically bars those convicted of electoral bribery for ten years.

Aug. 28, 1821 - New York Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

New York's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws may be passed by excluding from the right of suffrage persons... convicted of infamous crimes."

Jan. 14, 1830 - Virginia Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Virginia's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of an infamous crime."

Nov. 8, 1831 - Delaware Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Delaware's state constitution is ratified. It states "The legislature may impose the forfeiture of the right of suffrage as a punishment of crime." The constitution also specifically bars from voting those convicted of a felony.

May 1834 - Tennessee Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Tennessee's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws may be passed excluding from the right of suffrage persons who may be convicted of infamous crimes."

Dec. 3, 1838 - Florida Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Florida's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made by the General Assembly to exclude from... suffrage those who shall have been, or may thereafter be, convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crime or misdemeanor." It also states that "the General Assembly shall have power to exclude from... the right of suffrage, all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crimes." The constitution came into effect in 1845 when Florida became a U.S. state.

Nov. 5, 1842 - Rhode Island Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Rhode Island's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of bribery or of any crime deemed infamous at common law, until expressly restored to the right of suffrage by an act of General Assembly."

June 29, 1844 - New Jersey Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

New Jersey's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of felonies unless pardoned or restored by law to the right of suffrage." It also states "The legislature may pass laws to deprive persons of the right of suffrage who shall be convicted of bribery."

Nov. 5, 1845 - Louisiana Constitution Ratified to Bar Anyone Sentenced to Hard Labor from Voting

Louisiana's state constitution specifically bars from voting those "under interdiction" or "under conviction of any crime punishable with hard labor."

Aug. 27, 1845 - Texas Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Texas' state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude... from the right of suffrage those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes."

Aug. 3, 1846 - Iowa Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Iowa's state constitution is ratified. It bars from voting those "convicted of any infamous crime."

Nov. 3, 1846 - New York Constitution Ratified to Bar Persons Convicted of "Infamous" Crimes from Voting

New York's new state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws may be passed excluding from the right of suffrage all persons who have been or may be convicted of bribery, larceny, or of any other infamous crime.... and for wagering on elections."

Feb. 1, 1848 - Wisconsin Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Wisconsin's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws may be passed excluding from the right of suffrage all persons... convicted of bribery, or larceny, or any infamous crime... and for betting on elections."

Nov. 1849 - California Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

California's state constitution is ratified. It states "Laws shall be made to exclude from... the right of suffrage those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes." The constitution also specifically bars from voting "those convicted of any infamous crime." The constitution came into effect with statehood in 1850.

1850-1899

June 4, 1851 - Maryland Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Maryland's state constitution is ratified. It bars from voting persons "convicted of larceny or other infamous crime" unless pardoned by the executive; also persons convicted of bribery at elections are "forever disqualified from voting."

Aug. 29, 1857 - Minnesota Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Minnesota's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of treason or felony until restored to civil rights." This came into effect with statehood in 1858.

Nov. 1857 - Oregon Constitution Establishes Criminal Disenfranchisement

Oregon's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment." This constitution came into effect with statehood in 1859.

Feb. 3, 1870 - 15th Amendment to the US Constitution Gives the Vote to Former Slaves and Prohibits Racially Based Disenfranchisement

1867 wood engraving print image of African American men voting by A.R. Waud
Source: Library of Congress, "The Right to Vote," www.loc.gov (accessed June 28, 2013)

The US Constitution's 15th Amendment is ratified on Feb. 3, 1870. It stipulates: "Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

15th Amendment: Constitution of the United States of America , Feb. 3, 1870

1882 - US Congress Passes the Edmunds Act, Banning Polygamists from Voting

"In 1882 Congress passed the Edmunds Act... It restated that polygamy was a felony punishable by five years of imprisonment and a $500 fine... Convicted polygamists were disenfranchised and were ineligible to hold political office."

Utah History Encyclopedia   "Polygamy," www.media.utah.edu (accessed July 15, 2009)

 

1900-1949

1901 - New Alabama Constitution Expands Criminal Disenfranchisement in Effort to Maintain White Supremacy

"Between 1890 and 1910 many states adopted new laws or reconfigured preexisting laws to handicap newly enfranchised black citizens whose rights had been expanded by both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments...

The purpose of these various measures, as the President of Alabama's all-white 1901 constitutional convention explained, was 'within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution to establish white supremacy.'"

The 1901 Constitution stated the following: "The following persons shall be disqualified both from registering, and from voting, namely:

All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation, crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector."

Alabama Constitution of 1901; Section 182 , 1901

Elizabeth Hull, PhD     The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons, 2006

1950-1999

Sep. 9, 1957 - President Eisenhower Signs the Civil Rights Act of 1957

"Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, giving the U.S. Attorney General the authority to bring lawsuits on behalf of African Americans denied the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is the first such measure to pass Congress since adoption of the federal civil rights laws of 1875. Among other things, the Act authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to sue to correct discrimination and intimidation of potential voters."

Civil Rights Act of 1957 , 1957

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)   "Voting Rights Act Timeline," www.aclu.org Mar. 4, 2005

Aug. 6, 1965 - President Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act
Source: National Archives, "Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson Signing the Voting Rights Act," archives.gov, Aug. 6, 1965

"President Johnson signed the [Voting Rights Act] into law on August 6, 1965. Section 2 of the Act, which closely followed the language of the 15th amendment, applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis. Among its other provisions, the Act contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest. Under Section 5, jurisdictions covered by these special provisions could not implement any change affecting voting until the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect. In addition, the Attorney General could designate a county covered by these special provisions for the appointment of a federal examiner to review the qualifications of persons who wanted to register to vote. Further, in those counties where a federal examiner was serving, the Attorney General could request that federal observers monitor activities within the county's polling place."

Voting Rights Act of 1965 , Aug. 6, 1965

US Department of Justice   "The Voting Rights Act of 1965," www.usdoj.gov (accessed July 15, 2009)

[Editor’s Note: The Voting Rights Act was renewed in 1970 for five years, 1975 for seven years, 1982 for 25 years, and in 2006 for an additional 25 years. On June 25, 2013, in the case Shelby v. Holder , the United States Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision.]

May 24, 1966 - California Supreme Court in Otsuka v. Hite Defines the Term "Infamous Crimes"

The California Supreme Court rules in Otsuka v. Hite that the phrase "infamous crimes" in the state constitution should only disenfranchise those "deemed to constitute a threat to the integrity of the elective process."

Otsuka v. Hite , May 24, 1966

June 13, 1967 - New York Supreme Court Rules That Criminal Disenfranchisement Is Reasonable and Constitutional in Green v. Board of Elections

The New York Supreme Court rules in Green v. Board of Elections that criminal disenfranchisement statutes are constitutional, arguing that "a man who breaks the laws he has authorized his agent to make for his own governance could fairly have been thought to have abandoned the right to participate in further administering the compact... It can scarcely be deemed unreasonable for a state to decide that perpetrators of serious crimes shall not take part in electing the legislators who make the laws..."

Green v. Board of Elections , June 13, 1967

Nov. 16, 1972 - Federal Appeals Court Argues That "Constitutional Concepts" Should Evolve Along with Modern Concepts of Justice and Punishment

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Dillenburg v. Kramer that "courts have been hard pressed to define state interest served by laws disenfranchising persons convicted of crimes... Search for modern reasons to sustain the old governmental disenfranchisement prerogative has usually ended with a general pronouncement that a state has an interest in preventing persons who have been convicted of serious crimes from participation in the electoral process or a quasi-metaphysical invocation that the interest is preservation of the 'purity of the ballot box.'...

Earlier in our constitutional history, laws disenfranchising persons convicted of crime may have been immune from attack. But the constitutional concepts of equal protection are not immutably frozen like insects trapped in Devonian amber."

The ruling overturned a lower court decision denying the appellant, Byrle L. Dillenburg, a chance to have a three judge panel in US district court decide whether or not Washington's criminal disenfranchisement law was unconstitutional.

Dillenburg v. Kramer , Nov. 16, 1972

June 24, 1974 - US Supreme Court Rules That Disenfranchising Convicted Felons Does Not Violate the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution

The US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in Richardson v. Ramirez that "California, in disenfranchising convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause...

Although the Court has never given plenary consideration to the precise question of whether a State may constitutionally exclude some or all convicted felons from the franchise, we have indicated approval of such exclusions on a number of occasions... recently we have strongly suggested in dicta that exclusion of convicted felons from the franchise violates no constitutional provision...

But it is not for us to choose one set of values over the other. If respondents are correct, and the view which they advocate is indeed the more enlightened one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to the view. And if they do not do so, their failure is some evidence, at least, of the fact that there are two sides to the argument."

Richardson v. Ramirez , June 24, 1974

Nov. 5, 1974 - California Amends Constitution to Allow Felons to Vote After Completion of Incarceration and Parole

"In November of 1974, California voters passed Proposition 10, which effectively restored voting rights to former felons. California thus joined a growing number of states that removed permanent voting restrictions for people convicted of felonies, ‘infamous’ crimes and a variety of lesser offenses. While this measure received little fanfare in the media, its impact was substantial due to California’s dramatic increase in incarceration rates beginning in the 1970s. Over the next 30 years, this change restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of citizens who otherwise would have been disenfranchised."

The constitution restricts felons from voting "while... imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony."

California State Constitution; Article 2 , Nov. 5, 1974

Michael C. Campbell     "Criminal Disenfranchisement Reform in California: A Deviant Case Study," Punishment Society, 2007

Apr. 22, 1980 - US Supreme Court Rules That Purposeful Racial Discrimination Must Be Evident for a Disenfranchisement Law to Be Unconstitutional

The US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in City of Mobile, Alabama v. Bolden that only actions undertaken with "racially discriminatory motivation" were unconstitutional or illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court ruling states that there must be "purposeful discrimination" for a voting disenfranchisement law to be found unconstitutional. Racial discrimination alone is irrelevant unless it can be shown that the intent was to racially discriminate.

This case set one of the benchmarks for future cases challenging felon disenfranchisement laws based upon racial intent.

Mobile v. Bolden , Apr. 22, 1980

Apr. 16, 1985 - US Supreme Court Rules That Criminal Disenfranchisement Is Legal If there Is No Racially Discriminatory Intent

The US Supreme Court rules in an 8-0 decision in Hunter v. Underwood that states have the right to disenfranchise criminals but "not with a racially discriminatory intent."

Hunter v. Underwood , Apr. 16, 1985

2000-present

Nov. 4, 2000 - Massachusetts Voters Ban Incarcerated Felons from Voting

"In 2000 [Nov. 4], Massachusetts became the only state in recent history to further restrict voting rights for felons. Prior to a ballot question [passed by 60.3% of voters] that year, there were no voting restrictions for felons in Massachusetts. This changed when the Massachusetts constitution was amended to include, ’Persons who are incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction’ may not vote' (Mass Const. Art. III as amended in 2000)."

Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC)   "Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition Demands Voting Rights for Felons," www.massdecarcerate.org (accessed July 17, 2009)

Mar. 15, 2001 - New Mexico Repeals Lifetime Ban on Felon Voting

"In March 2001, the New Mexico legislature adopted Senate Bill 204, repealing the state’s lifetime ban on ex-felon voting. Prior to the bill’s passage, anyone convicted of a felony faced permanent disenfranchisement. According to the new law, persons convicted of a felony who have completed their prison terms, as well as any offenders completing probation or parole, are automatically eligible to register. There is no application process required to restore voting rights. It is estimated that over 50,000 New Mexicans were barred from voting at the time of the law’s enactment."

Senate Bill 204 , Mar. 15, 2001

Sentencing Project   "Legislative Changes On Felony Disenfranchisement, 1996-2003," www.sentencingproject.org, Sep. 2003

Feb. 14, 2002 - US Senate Votes Down Amendment Granting Felons The Right to Vote in Federal Elections

"[In] 2002 U.S. Senate vote on an amendment to the federal voting reform legislation [Equal protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001] that proposed to restore voting rights to ex-felons in federal elections. Senators from the 11 former confederate states voted 18 to 4 against enfranchisement (the measure went down by a 63-31 floor vote), and the most passionate speeches against it were made by southerners..."

Sec. 503. Rights Of Citzens , Feb. 14, 2002

Jeff Manza, PhD and Christopher Uggen, PhD Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, 2006

Sep. 25, 2003 - Alabama Passes Bill Allowing Most Felons to Register to Vote

"In 2003, [Alabama] Governor Riley signed into law a bill [Section 15-22-36.1] that permits most people with felony convictions [in the state of Alabama] to apply for a certificate of eligibility to register to vote after completing their sentence."

Section 15-22-36.1 , 2003

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)   "Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box: Felon Enfranchisement Toolkit," www.aclu.org (accessed July 16, 2009)

July 1, 2003 - Nevada Passes Bill to Automatically Restore the Vote to Felons

"In 2003, the Nevada legislature passed Assembly Bill 55. Highlights of the new law include:

For people released from parole, prison, or probation before July 1, 2003, the law automatically restores voting rights and the right to serve as a juror in a civil case. These individuals gain the right to run for public office after four years and can serve as a juror in a criminal case after six years. This applies to all former felons, regardless of the number or seriousness of the convictions.

For people released after July 1, 2003, the bill requires the immediate restoration of these rights only for individuals who have committed a single, nonviolent felony, including a drug offense. Those who have been convicted of a violent felony or who have served for multiple convictions must petition a court for the restoration of their rights.

The bill also allows ex-felons to hold 26 different occupations from which they were previously banned."

Applied Research Center   "Re-Enfranchising Ex-Felons Assembly Bill, 55, State of Nevada, 2003," www.arc.org (accessed Aug. 3, 2009)

March 2005 - Nebraska Repeals Lifetime Ban on Felon Voting

"In March 2005, the [Nebraska] Legislature repealed the lifetime ban on all felons and replaced it with a two-year post-sentence ban. Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed the bill but was overridden by the Legislature."

Rachel La Corte, MA   "Ex-Felons Face Roadblocks in Regaining Voting Rights," Seattle Post Intelligencer, July 4, 2005

June 17, 2005 - Iowa Restores Vote to All Felons Who Have Completed Their Sentences

"Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced yesterday [6/17/05] that he would restore voting rights for all felons who have completed their sentences, ending what advocates for voting rights had called one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country."

New York Times    "Iowa Governor Will Give Felons the Right to Vote," June 18, 2005

July 7, 2006 - Washington District Court Rules in Farrakhan v. Gregoire That State's Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws Do Not Violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act

"On July 7, the Eastern District Court of Washington dismissed the Farrakhan v. Gregoire case, in which the plaintiffs charged that Washington's felon disenfranchisement laws and restoration policies disproportionately result in the denial of voting rights for racial minorities and therefore violate Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In its Decision, the Court concluded that it is 'compelled to find that there is discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system on account of race' and that this discrimination 'clearly hinders the ability of racial minorities to participate effectively in the political process.' Despite these conclusions, however, the Court dismissed the case citing a 'remarkable absence of any history of official discrimination' in Washington's electoral process and felon disenfranchisement provisions."

Sentencing Project   " Washington State: Court Dismisses Farrakhan Disenfranchisement Case Charging VRA Violation," www.sentencingproject.org, July 1

Apr. 5, 2007 - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Institutes Automatic Vote Restoration to Felons Who Have Completed Their Full Sentences

The Florida Rules of Executive Clemency were amended by Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and the Florida Board of Executive Clemency on Apr. 5, 2007. The new rules now permit disenfranchised felons to have their ability to vote automatically restored once they have completed their full sentences, including "imprisonment, parole, probation, community control, control release, and conditional release [and] has paid all restitution." Additional requirements are also mandated. Previous rules required at least five "crime-free" years before such restoration.

Florida Rules of Executive Clemency (accessed July 31, 2008)

Florida Clemency Application (accessed July 31, 2008)

Apr. 26, 2007 - Maryland Institutes Automatic Vote Restoration for All Felons upon Completion of Sentence

"In 2007, the [Maryland] Legislature repealed all provisions of the state’s lifetime voting ban, including the three-year waiting period after completion of sentence for certain categories of offenses, and instituted an automatic restoration policy for all persons upon completion of sentence."

Voter Registration and Protection Act , Apr. 26, 2007

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)   "Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box: Felon Enfranchisement Toolkit," www.aclu.org (accessed July 16, 2009)

July 26, 2007 - Washington Supreme Court Reinstates Fine Payment as Part of Felon Re-Enfranchisement Qualifications

On July 26, 2007, the Washington State Supreme Court, in Madison v. Washington, reversed an Apr. 21 2006 King County superior Court order giving "all felons who have satisfied the terms of their sentences except for paying legal financial obligations, and who, due to their financial status, are unable to pay their legal financial obligations immediately," the right to vote.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that persons convicted of a felony in the state of Washington who were convicted after July 1, 1984 have their ability to vote restored once all probation/parole is completed and all fines are paid.

Those convicted prior to July 1, 1984 must petition the sentencing review board to have their ability to vote restored.

King County Superior Court Order , Apr. 21, 2006

Washington State Supreme Court Ruling , June 27, 2006

Dec. 2007 - Barack Obama Supports Felon Re-Enfranchisement

Presidential candidate Barack Obama made a statement supporting the re-enfranchisement of felons in a Dec. 7, 2007 questionnaire for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP):

"I support restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. I am a cosponsor of the Count Every Vote Act, and would sign that legislation into law as president."

The NAACP 2008 Presidential Candidate Civil Rights Questionnaire" , Dec. 7, 2007

Jan. 5, 2010 - 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals Rules that Washington's Felon Disenfranchisement Law Violates the Voting Rights Act

A three judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in Farrakhan v. Gregoire that Washington's felon disenfranchisement law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that plaintiffs "demonstrated that the discriminatory impact of Washington’s felon disenfranchisement is attributable to racial discrimination." According to a press release from Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, the ruling will allow "inmates currently behind bars to vote in Washington."

Farrakhan v. Gregoire , Jan. 5, 2010

Press Release: "9th Circuit Appeals Bench Would Allow Felons to Vote" , Jan. 5, 2010

[Editors Note: In an interview with ProCon.org on Jan. 6, 2010, Sam Reed’s office stated that they were expecting the Attorney General to appeal this decision (the office announced later that day that the case will be appealed to the US Supreme Court). The office also stated that until guidance is recieved from the Washington Attorney General’s Office as to how this ruling should be implemented, the “status quo” remains in place; incarcerated felons will not be allowed to vote.]

Oct. 7, 2010 - Washington's Felon Disenfranchisement Law Upheld in en banc Reversal of 9th US Circuit Court Decision

On Oct. 7, 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a full 11 judge bench hearing of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, reversed the court’s 2-1 panel decision from Jan. 5, 2010, and ruled 11-0 that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement law did not violate the Voting Rights Act.

The court's majority opinion stated: "Because plaintiffs presented no evidence of intentional discrimination in the operation of Washington’s criminal justice system and argue no other theory under which a section 2 challenge might be sustained, we conclude that they didn’t meet their burden of showing a violation of the VRA. Accordingly, the district court didn’t err when it granted summary judgment against them."

Farrakhan v. Gregoire , Oct. 7, 2010

Press Release: "Ninth Circuit Upholds Washington's Felon Voting Ban" , Oct. 7, 2010

Oct. 18, 2010 - US Supreme Court Declines Taking Up MA Felon Voting Case Simmons v. Galvin

On Oct. 18, 2010 the US Supreme Court published its denial of a Writ of Certiorari filed Feb. 1, 2010 in the case of Simmons v. Galvin thus refusing to hear the case.

The petitioners had claimed that a Massachusetts law banning felons from voting while incarcerated was racially discriminatory and in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

US First Circuit Appeals Court Decision in Simmons v. Galvin , July 31, 2009

Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Simmons v. Galvin , Feb. 1, 2010

Jan. 14, 2011 - Iowa Rescinds Automatic Voting Restoration for Convicted Felons Who Have Completed Their Sentences

On Jan. 14, 2011, the Republican Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, issued executive order 70, rescinding a law allowing people convicted of a felony to automatically have their ability to vote restored after completing their sentences. The automatic voting restoration law had been instituted by former Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack's signing of executive order 42 in 2005. Felons in Iowa must now pay all outstanding monetary obligations to the court in addition to completing their sentence and period of parole or probation. People convicted of a felony may then apply for restoration of the ability to vote.

Mar. 9, 2011 - Florida Rescinds Automatic Voting Restoration for Convicted Felons Who Have Completed Their Sentences

On Mar. 9, 2011 the Florida rules of Executive Clemency were toughened. Automatic restoration of civil rights and the ability to vote will no longer be granted for any offenses. All individuals convicted of any felony will now have to apply for executive clemency after a five year waiting period. Individuals who are convicted, or who have previously been convicted, of certain felonies such as murder, assault, child abuse, drug trafficking, arson, etc. are subject to a seven year waiting period and a clemency board hearing to determine whether or not the ability to vote will be restored.

Prior to the Mar. 9, 2011 rule change some individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies were re-enfranchised automatically by the Clemency Board upon completion of their full sentence, including payment of fines and fees.

Governor Scott and Florida Cabinet Discuss Amended Rules of Executive Clemency , flgov.com, Mar. 9, 2011

Mar. 19, 2012 - South Dakota Enacts HB 1247, Removing the Vote from Convicted Felons until Completion of Probation

On Mar. 19, 2012, HB 1247 was enacted. The bill took the ability to vote away from convicted felons serving terms of probation. Previously, only persons on parole or incarcerated were ineligible to register to vote. Now convicted felons must serve their full term of incarceration, parole, and probation before they may register to vote.

South Dakota: HB 1247 , legis.state.sd.us, Mar. 19, 2012

Apr. 16, 2013 - Delaware Senate Passes the Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act

On April 16, 2013 the Delaware Senate passed the Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act in a 15-6 vote. The act amended the Delaware Constitution by removing the five year waiting period for most felons to regain the ability to vote. Persons convicted of a felony (with some exceptions) are now automatically eligible to vote after serving their full sentence including incarceration, parole, and probation.

Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act , legis.delaware.gov, Apr. 16, 2013

May 29, 2013 - Virginia Institutes Automatic Vote Restoration to All Nonviolent Felons Who Have Completed Their Full Sentences

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell announces automatic restoration of the vote to nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences
Source: "Photo Galleries," governor.virginia.gov (accessed June 28, 2013)

On May 29, 2013, Governor Bob McDonnell announced that he will automatically restore the ability to vote to all nonviolent felons who meet the following conditions:

1) have completed their term of incarceration and all probation or parole;
2) have paid all court costs, fines, and any restitution; and
3) have no pending felony charges.

Previously, individuals convicted of most nonviolent felonies had to wait two years to apply for a gubernatorial restoration of voting ability after completion of their sentence and the payment of any fines and restitution.

Persons convicted of violent felonies, drug sales or manufacturing, crimes against minors, and election law offenses must wait five years to apply for a gubernatorial restoration of rights.

Feb. 11, 2014 - Attorney General Eric Holder Calls for Restoration of the Vote to People Convicted of a Felony

In a speech on criminal justice reform at the Georgetown University Law Center on Feb. 11, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder called for the restoration of the vote to people convicted of a felony. According to the New York Times, "The call was mostly symbolic — Mr. Holder has no authority to enact these changes himself — but it marked the attorney general’s latest effort to eliminate laws that he says disproportionately keep minorities from the polls."

In his speech, Attorney General Holder stated the following: "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."

Eric H. Holder, JD     "Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform at Georgetown University Law Center," www.justice.gov, Feb. 11, 2013

New York Times    “Holder Urges States to Repeal Bans on Felons’ Voting,” nytimes.com, Feb. 11, 2014

Nov. 24, 2015 - Voting Rights Restored to Nonviolent Felons in Kentucky

"[T]he governor of Kentucky [Steven L. Beshear] on Tuesday issued an executive order that immediately granted the right to vote to about 140,000 nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences...

Kentucky had been one of just three states imposing a lifetime voting ban on felons unless they received a special exemption from the governor. Florida and Iowa still carry the lifetime ban...

As an executive order, the new policy can be altered or scrapped by a future governor. But the initial response from the governor-elect, Matt Bevin, a conservative Republican, was positive...

[The executive] order excludes those with new pending charges and those convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason."

New York Times    "Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights to Thousands of Felons," nytimes.com, Nov. 24, 2015

Dec. 22, 2015 - New Kentucky Governor Reverses Prior Executive Order That Allowed Nonviolent Felons to Vote

"Kentucky's new Republican governor has rescinded an executive order that restored voting rights to as many as 140,000 non-violent felons...

'While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights,' Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Ky.) said in announcing the order, 'it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.'"

Washington Post    "Kentucky’s New Governor Reverses Executive Order That Restored Voting Rights for Felons," washingtonpost.com, Dec. 23, 2015

Feb. 9, 2016 - Maryland Senate Restores the Vote to Convicted Felons Immediately upon Release from Prison

"The Maryland General Assembly voted to override a veto today on a bill that will restore voting rights for approximately 40,000 citizens who live in their communities but cannot vote because of a criminal conviction in their past…

Previous Maryland law withheld the right to vote from individuals until they fully completed every requirement of their sentence, including those beyond incarceration, like probation and parole supervision. SB 340/HB980, introduced by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and Del. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore), simplifies the process by allowing an individual to become eligible to vote upon release from prison or if they were never incarcerated."

Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law   "Voting Rights Restored to 40,000 Marylanders," brennancenter.org, Feb. 9, 2016

Apr. 22, 2016 - Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to All Felons

"Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.

The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party."

New York Times    "Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons," nytimes.com, Apr. 22, 2016

July 22, 2016 - Virginia Supreme Court Rules Executive Order Restoring Voting Rights to 200,000 Felons Unconstitutional

"Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's [Apr. 22, 2016] sweeping executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons is unconstitutional, the state's highest court ruled Friday [July 22, 2016], siding with Republican lawmakers who said the governor overstepped his authority.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Virginia ordered the state to cancel the registrations of the more than 11,000 felons who have signed up to vote so far under the governor's April executive order...

Republicans argued that [Virginia] governors cannot restore rights en masse but must consider each former offender's case individually."

Washington Times "Virginia Court Nixes Order Restoring Felons’ Voting Rights," washingtontimes.com, July 22, 2016

In a press release issued after the Supreme Court of Virginia ruling, the Governor stated that, because the court invalidated his blanket order to restore voting rights to all felons in the state, he "will expeditiously sign nearly 13,000 individual orders to restore the fundamental rights of the citizens who have had their rights restored and registered to vote. And I will continue to sign orders until I have completed restoration for all 200,000 Virginians."

Governor McAuliffe’s Statement on the Virginia Supreme Court Decision (accessed July 26, 2016)

Nov. 7, 2018 - Florida Restores the Vote to up to 1.4 Million People with Prior Felony Convictions

"Florida added 1.4 million possible voters to the rolls when it passed Amendment 4, which said most felons will automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences and probation...

Convicted sex offenders and those convicted of murder are exempt. The measure needed 60 percent of the vote Tuesday to pass; it received 64 percent of the vote...

Of the 6.1 million disenfranchised felons in the U.S., about 1.7 million live in Florida — the most of any state... Only 12 states disenfranchise people for a felony conviction after they’ve served their sentence, he said.

Voting rights advocates say there are about 1.7 million former felons in Florida, and about 1.4 million people will be able to vote. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences."

Washington Post    "Florida Passes Amendment to Restore Felons’ Voting Rights," washingtonpost.com, Nov. 7, 2018

May 30, 2019 - Nevada Restores the Vote to about 77,000 Former Felons

"Nevada's governor has signed criminal justice reform bills that restore voting rights to convicted felons and streamlines the process for sealing low-level marijuana convictions.

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed both the measures Wednesday [May 29, 2019] as the legislative session continues on in its final days.

The voting rights legislation gives felony offenders the right to vote after being released from prison, instead of granting certain felons the right to vote two years after being released.

Sisolak says some 77,000 state residents will have their voting rights restored due to the legislation."

Associated Press    "Nevada Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bills," kolotv.com, May 30, 2019

Jan. 16, 2020 - Florida Supreme Court Rules Former Felons Will Have to Pay Fines and Fees before Voting

"Florida’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday [Jan. 16, 2020] that convicted felons must pay fines and other fees related to their sentences before voting, concluding a legal controversy that pitted the state government against civil voting rights advocacy groups. The court decided in its ruling that 'all terms of sentence' includes not only terms of a person’s imprisonment and supervision, but also fines and other obligations imposed as part of a punishment.. The amendment to the Florida constitution that allows 1.4 million convicted felons to vote following their release from incarceration was lauded by civil rights advocates after its passage in November, with the advocates noting that people of color had been disproportionately impacted by the ban. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill in June [2019] mandating that the former convicts pay off restitution, court fees and fines before regaining the right to vote, sparking criticism from opponents who said the law amounted to a poll tax. Several groups, including the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, sued the state government following the bill’s signing."

Tal Axelrod, “Florida Supreme Court Rules Convicted Felons Must Pay Fines, Fees before Voting,” thehill.com, Jan. 16, 2020

[Editor’s Note: A federal appeals court ruled on Feb. 19, 2020 that a Florida law requiring former felons to pay off restitution, court fees, and fines before voting again violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Governor DeSantis has appealed the decision.]

Tal Axelrod, “Court Sides with Ex-Felons Who Challenged Florida Voting Requirement,” thehill.com, Feb. 19, 2020

May 24, 2020 - Former Felons in Florida Cannot Be Barred from Voting for Owing Court Fees, Rules Federal Judge

US District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled on Sunday, May 24, 2020 that parts of the Florida law requiring former felons to pay court fees, fines, and restitution to victims before they can vote is unconstitutional.

Hinkle ruled that the following former felons should have their right to vote restored: those who were appointed a public defender, those whose fines, fees, and restitution were converted to civil liens (in which property such as a house is put up as collateral for payment), and those who only owe court fees.

The ruling stated, "This order holds that the State can condition voting on payment of fines and restitution that a person is able to pay but cannot condition voting on payment of amounts a person is unable to pay.”

Kelvin Leon Jones, et al., v. Ron DeSantis et al., politico.com, May 24, 2020

Lawrence Mower, "‘A Game Changer’: Five Takeaways from Sunday’s Ruling on Felon Voting,” tampabay.com, May 25, 2020

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