U.S. History of Felony Disenfranchisement
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1100 BC - 16th Century - "Civil Death" Used as Punishment for Crime in Ancient Athens, Ancient Rome, and Medieval Europe"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 and Christopher Uggen, 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]."
"Ballot Boxes Behind Bars: Toward the Repeal of Prisoner Disenfranchisement Laws," Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review, Fall 2003
1789 - US Constitution Forges a Link Between Voting in National Elections and State Suffrage Rules"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."
The Right to Vote, 2000
Apr. 19, 1792 - Kentucky Constitution Is First among US States to Establish Criminal DisenfranchisementKentucky'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."
Kentucky Constitution, Apr. 19, 1792
July 9, 1793 - Vermont Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementVermont's state constitution is ratified. It gives authority to the state supreme court to disenfranchise those guilty of bribery, corruption, or other crimes.
Vermont's Constitution, July 9, 1793
Jan. 22, 1812 - Louisiana Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementLouisiana'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."
Louisiana Constitution, Jan. 22, 1812
June 10, 1816 - Indiana Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementIndiana'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."
Indiana Constitution, June 10, 1816
July 7, 1817 - Mississippi Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementMississippi'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."
Mississippi Constitution, July 7, 1817
Oct. 12, 1818 - Connecticut Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementConnecticut'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."
Connecticut Constitution, Oct. 12, 1818
July 5, 1819 - Alabama Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementAlabama'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."
Alabama Constitution, July 5, 1819
June 12, 1820 - Missouri Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementMissouri'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.
Missouri Constitution, June 12, 1820
Aug. 28, 1821 - New York Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementNew York's state constitution is ratified. It states, "Laws may be passed by excluding from the right of suffrage persons... convicted of infamous crimes."
New York Constitution, Aug. 28, 1821
Jan. 14, 1830 - Virginia Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementVirginia's state constitution is ratified. It specifically bars from voting those "convicted of an infamous crime."
Virginia Constitution, Jan. 14, 1830
Nov. 8, 1831 - Delaware Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementDelaware'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.
Delaware Constitution, Nov. 8, 1831
May 1834 - Tennessee Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementTennessee'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."
Tennessee Constitution, May 1834
Dec. 3, 1838 - Florida Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementFlorida'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.
Florida Constitution, Dec. 3, 1838
Nov. 29, 1802 - Ohio Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementOhio'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."
Ohio Constitution, Nov. 29, 1802
Nov. 5, 1842 - Rhode Island Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementRhode 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."
Rhode Island Constitution, Nov. 5, 1842
June 29, 1844 - New Jersey Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementNew 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."
New Jersey Constitution, June 29, 1844
Nov. 5, 1845 - Louisiana Constitution Ratified to Bar Anyone Sentenced to Hard Labor from VotingLouisiana's state constitution specifically bars from voting those "under interdiction" or "under conviction of any crime punishable with hard labor."
Louisiana Constitution, Nov. 5, 1845
Aug. 27, 1845 - Texas Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementTexas' 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."
Texas Constitution, Aug. 27, 1845
Aug. 3, 1846 - Iowa Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementIowa's state constitution is ratified. It bars from voting those "convicted of any infamous crime."
Iowa Constitution, Aug. 3, 1846
Nov. 3, 1846 - New York Constitution Ratified to Bar Persons Convicted of "Infamous" Crimes from VotingNew 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."
New York Constitution, Nov. 3, 1846
Feb. 1, 1848 - Wisconsin Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementWisconsin'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."
Wisconsin Constitution, Feb. 1, 1848
Nov. 1849 - California Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementCalifornia'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.
California Constitution, Nov. 1849
June 4, 1851 - Maryland Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementMaryland'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."
Maryland Constitution, June 4, 1851
Aug. 29, 1857 - Minnesota Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementMinnesota'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.
Minnesota Constitution, Aug. 29, 1857
Nov. 1857 - Oregon Constitution Establishes Criminal DisenfranchisementOregon'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.
Oregon Constitution, Nov. 1857
Feb. 3, 1870 - 15th Amendment to the US Constitution Gives the Vote to Formerly Enslaved People and Prohibits Racially Based DisenfranchisementThe 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."
"Polygamy," www.media.utah.edu (accessed July 15, 2009)
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."
The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons, 2006
Alabama Constitution of 1901; Section 182, 1901
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."
"Voting Rights Act Timeline," www.aclu.org Mar. 4, 2005
Civil Rights Act of 1957
Aug. 6, 1965 - President Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act"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."
"The Voting Rights Act of 1965," www.usdoj.gov (accessed July 15, 2009)
Voting Rights Act of 1965, Aug. 6, 1965
[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.]
Mar. 24, 1966 - US Supreme Court Rules States Cannot Require Payment of Fees as a Condition to VoteIn Harper v. Virginia Board Of Elections, Harper and co-defendants filed suit against the state of Virginia, alleging it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution for the state to require payment of state-imposed voting taxes (aka “poll tax,” designated to pay for “services”) prior to voting.
The District court dismissed the case. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed in favor of Harper et al., noting that voter qualifications have nothing to do with wealth or paying taxes or fees.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that “the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment restrains the States from fixing voter qualifications which invidiously discriminate” has been cited as meaning that if a felon disenfranchisement law “invidiously discriminates,” it should be ruled unconstitutional.
The court ruled:
“Held: A State’s conditioning of the right to vote on the payment of a fee or tax violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment… While the right to vote in federal elections is conferred by Art. 1, 2, of the Constitution, the right to vote in state elections is nowhere expressly mentioned… For it is enough to say that once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment…
We conclude that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.
Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax. Our cases demonstrate that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment restrains the States from fixing voter qualifications which invidiously discriminate … [W]e must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications.”
Harper v. Virginia Board Of Elections, Mar. 24, 1966
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."
Katsuki James Otsuka, et al., filed a Class Action suit against the California Registrar of Voters, Benjamin S. Hite, etc., for refusing to register them to vote due to their prior convictions as conscientious objectors. The refusal to register the plaintiffs to vote was based on California’s constitution barring voters convicted of “infamous crimes.”
The California Superior Court ruled that Otsuka et al. should be permitted to register to vote, and that California’s list of “infamous crimes” was too broad, and should be narrowed to “moral corruption and dishonesty.” As a result of this case all California counties attempted to bar from voting those convicted of “moral corruption and dishonesty.”
The court ruled:
“After reviewing the history and purpose of this ground of voter disqualifications we have concluded that to preserve its constitutionality it must be limited to conviction of crimes involving moral corruption and dishonesty, thereby branding their perpetrator a threat to the integrity of the elective process. Plaintiffs’ crime was not ‘infamous’ as thus construed, and hence the judgment is reversed...
In ruling on the validity of state-imposed restrictions on this fundamental right the United States Supreme Court has in effect tended to apply the principle that the state must show it has a compelling interest in abridging the right, and that in any event such restrictions must be drawn with narrow specificity
Viewed in this light, serious constitutional difficulties appear when the disfranchising provision of article II, section 1, is applied to these plaintiffs.”
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 ElectionsThe 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."
Gilbert Green, a felon convicted of conspiracy “to organize the Communist Party as a group to teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the government by force and violence,” filed suit in New York Supreme Court challenging his disenfranchisement. The New York Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Board of Elections that there is nothing unreasonable or unconstitutional about criminal disenfranchisement statutes.
Green was challenging the New York law that stated that no person “convicted of a felony in a federal court of an offense of which such court has exclusive jurisdiction, shall have the right to register for or vote at any election unless he shall have been pardoned or restored to the rights of citizenship by the president of the United States.”
The court ruled:
“While this is ample to demonstrate to us the obvious lack of merit in Green’s contentions we have yet to mention the point on which New York most heavily relies — the provision in § 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment reducing the basis of representation of a state in the House of Representatives ‘when the right to vote at any election is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime.’ The framers of the Amendment, says the Attorney General, could hardly have intended the general language of § 1 to outlaw a discrimination which § 2 expressly allowed without the penalty of reduced representation. The argument is convincing. We see nothing in the language or in history to support plaintiff’s suggestion that ‘other crimes’ meant only a crime connected with the rebellion. The Court’s rejection of Mr. Justice Harlan’s position that § 2 is the only portion of the Fourteenth Amendment dealing with voting rights…in no way indicates it would deny that § 1 of the Amendment cannot be fairly read to prohibit a discrimination which § 2 expressly permits — especially in the light of the Justices’ frequent and consistent statements approving voting disqualification for felony.”
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 PunishmentThe 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."
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.
This case examined a challenge to Washington’s felon disenfranchisement laws on the grounds that they violated the US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals questioned the state’s interest in disenfranchising felons, but it also noted that other courts have previously recognized the general pronouncement that a state has an interest in preventing persons who have been convicted of serious crimes from voting. The Court noted that the state interest served by disenfranchisement has never been adequately explained.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “constitutional concepts” can change over time, and laws disenfranchising felons should evolve along with society’s modern concepts of justice and punishment.
“[The] search for modern reasons to sustain the old governmental disenfranchisement prerogative has usually ended with a general pronouncement that the state has an interest in preventing persons who have been convicted of serious crimes from participating in the electoral process … a quasi-metaphysical invocation that the interest is preservation of the ‘purity of the ballot box.’
...Few decisions have penetrated the disenfranchisement classification to ascertain whether the offenses that restrict or destroy voting rights have anything to do with the integrity of the electoral process or whether there is any valid distinction between the class of offenses that disenfranchise and the class of offenses that do not...
[C]onstitutional concepts of equal protection are not immutably frozen like insects trapped in Devonian amber.”
Dillenburg v. Kramer, Nov. 16, 1972
June 24, 1974 - US Supreme Court Rules That Disenfranchising People with Felony Convictions Does Not Violate the Equal Protection Clause of the US ConstitutionThe 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."
Ramirez, Lee, and Gill were denied the ability to register to vote in three California counties after completing their felony sentences. They filed suit against the California Secretary of State and other election officials, including Viola Richardson, County Clerk of Mendocino County. California election officials relented and registered Ramirez et al. to vote. However, the case had been certified as a class action lawsuit that would effect all felons in California and was therefore permitted to continue through the courts.
The California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s felon disenfranchisement law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that California’s felon disenfranchisement law was constitutionally permissible.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court found California’s felon disenfranchisement clause to be constitutional, the California state legislature amended its constitution on Nov. 5, 1974 to limit disenfranchisement to those people convicted of crimes when “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.”
The court ruled:
“Pressed upon us by the respondents, and by amici curiae, are contentions that these notions are outmoded, and that the more modern view is that it is essential to the process of rehabilitating the ex-felon that he be returned to his role in society as a fully participating citizen when he has completed the serving of his term. We would by no means discount these arguments if addressed to the legislative forum which may properly weigh and balance them against those advanced in support of California’s present constitutional provisions. 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 and sensible one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to that 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 …
It is argued that disenfranchisement is necessary to prevent vote frauds. Although the State has a legitimate and, in fact, compelling interest in preventing election fraud, the challenged provision is not sustainable on that ground. First, the disenfranchisement provisions are patently both overinclusive and underinclusive. The provision is not limited to those who have demonstrated a marked propensity for abusing the ballot by violating election laws. Rather, it encompasses all former felons and there has been no showing that ex-felons generally are any more likely to abuse the ballot than the remainder of the population.”
Richardson v. Ramirez, June 24, 1974
Nov. 5, 1974 - California Amends Constitution to Allow People with Felony Convictions 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."
"Criminal Disenfranchisement Reform in California: A Deviant Case Study," Punishment Society, 2007
California State Constitution; Article 2, Nov. 5, 1974
Apr. 22, 1980 - US Supreme Court Rules That Purposeful Racial Discrimination Must Be Evident for a Disenfranchisement Law to Be UnconstitutionalThe 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 laws that disenfranchise people with felony convictions based upon racial intent.
Bolden et al. filed a class action lawsuit in Federal District Court, alleging that “the practice of electing the City Commissioners at large unfairly diluted the voting strength of Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments” of the U.S. Constitution. The District Court and the Court of Appeals (5th District) agreed with Bolden. The case was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 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.
The court ruled:
“Only if there is purposeful discrimination can there be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. And this principle applies to claims of racial discrimination affecting voting just as it does to other claims of racial discrimination...
Disproportionate effects alone are insufficient to establish a claim of unconstitutional racial vote dilution. Where the character of a law is readily explainable on grounds apart from race … disproportionate impact alone cannot be decisive, and courts must look to other evidence to support a finding of discriminatory purpose.”
Mobile v. Bolden, Apr. 22, 1980
Apr. 16, 1985 - US Supreme Court Rules That Criminal Disenfranchisement Is Legal if There Is No Racially Discriminatory IntentThe 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."
Victor Underwood, described in court documents as “a white,” and Carmen Edwards, “a black,” had been blocked from voting in Alabama because they each had been convicted of “presenting a worthless check … a crime involving moral turpitude.” They filed a class action lawsuit, claiming the disenfranchisement was intended to discriminate against blacks. The District Court ruled against them. The Court of Appeals (11th Circuit) reversed, saying the provision “would not have been adopted in the absence of the racially discriminatory motivation.” The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, finding that the disenfranchisement provision “violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in this case struck down the provision of the Alabama Constitution that mandated voting disenfranchisement for people who committed “crimes of moral turpitude.” Whether a law was passed with a racially biased intent became a litmus test for whether a disenfranchisement law is constitutional.
The court ruled:
“Held: Section 182 [of the Alabama constitution of 1901] violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendments... That 182 may have been adopted to discriminate against poor whites as well as against blacks would not render nugatory [worthless, futile] the purpose to discriminate against blacks...
The drafters [of Section 182] retained the general felony provision – ‘any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary’ – but also added a new catchall provision covering ‘any... crime involving moral turpitude.’ ...It is alleged, and the Court of Appeals found, that the crimes selected for inclusion in 182 were believed by the delegates to be more frequently committed by blacks.”
Hunter v. Underwood, Apr. 16, 1985
Nov. 4, 2000 - Massachusetts Voters Ban Incarcerated People with Felony Convictions 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)."
"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 Disenfranchisement of People with Felony Convictions"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."
"Legislative Changes On Felony Disenfranchisement, 1996-2003," www.sentencingproject.org, Sep. 2003
Senate Bill 204, Mar. 15, 2001
Feb. 14, 2002 - US Senate Votes Down Amendment Granting People with Felony Convictions 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 Citizens, Feb. 14, 2002
Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, 2006
Sep. 25, 2003 - Alabama Passes Bill Allowing Most People with Felony Convictions 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."
"Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box: Felon Enfranchisement Toolkit," www.aclu.org (accessed July 16, 2009)
Section 15-22-36.1, 2003
July 1, 2003 - Nevada Passes Bill to Automatically Restore the Vote to People with Felony Convictions"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."
"Re-Enfranchising Ex-Felons Assembly Bill, 55, State of Nevada, 2003," www.arc.org (accessed Aug. 3, 2009)
March 2005 - Nebraska Repeals Lifetime Ban of Disenfranchisement of People with Felony Convictions"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."
"Ex-Felons Face Roadblocks in Regaining Voting Rights," Seattle Post Intelligencer, July 4, 2005
June 17, 2005 - Iowa Restores Vote to All People with Felony Convictions 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."
"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."
" 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 People with Felony Convictions Who Have Completed Their Full SentencesThe 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 people with felony convictions 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 People with Felony Convictions 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."
"Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box: Felon Enfranchisement Toolkit," www.aclu.org (accessed July 16, 2009)
Voter Registration and Protection Act, Apr. 26, 2007
July 26, 2007 - Washington Supreme Court Reinstates Fine Payment as Part of Re-Enfranchisement QualificationsOn 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.
Daniel Madison, Beverly Dubois, and Dannielle Garner, convicted felons, filed suit against the state of Washington, challenging the constitutionality of Washington’s disenfranchisement law, claiming it denies the right to vote to convicted felons who have not completed all the terms of their sentences, including full payment of their legal financial obligations (LFOs).
All convicted felons in this case had completed all of their sentences except for the payment of LFOs. They had payment plans established, which were current and still owed (approximately, with interest) as follows:
Maddison: Monthly Payment: $15; Total Due: $242.25
DuBois: Monthly Payment: $10; Total Due: $1,805.69
Garner: Monthly Payment: $10; Total Due: $360.00
Madison et al. felt that Washington’s requirement that all LFOs must be paid in full prior to their sentence being considered “complete” was biased against the poor. Washington’s Supreme Court disagreed, opining that as long as all felons were treated in the same way the law could not be considered biased.
The court ruled:
“We hold that Washington’s disenfranchisement scheme does not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the Washington Constitution or the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.
The privileges and immunities clause does reflect, in part, our framers’ concerns with ‘undue political influence exercised by those with large concentrations of wealth’ and ‘avoiding favoritism toward the wealthy.’ However, such concerns are not triggered by Washington’s felon disenfranchisement scheme because it grants the ‘privilege’ of restoration of voting rights ‘upon the same terms... equally... to all citizens.’
The Washington Constitution grants the right to vote to all Washington citizens on equal terms. Additionally, the Washington Constitution disqualifies voters on equal terms — that is, when individuals have been convicted of committing a felony. … The system of only restoring voting rights to felons who have satisfied all of the terms of their sentences, including fully paying their LFOs, does not constitute a grant of favoritism or a granting of a privilege on unequal terms … because the same standard is applied evenly to all felons seeking restoration of their voting rights.”
King County Superior Court Order, Apr. 21, 2006
Washington State Supreme Court Ruling, June 27, 2006
Dec. 2007 - Barack Obama Supports Felon Re-Enfranchisement of People Who Have Completed Felony SentencesPresidential candidate Barack Obama made a statement supporting the re-enfranchisement of people who have completed felony sentences 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
Oct. 27, 2008 - US Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) Convicted; May Lose Ability to VoteOn Oct. 27, 2008 Senator Stevens was convicted on 7 of 7 felony charges. "The New York Times reports, correctly, that Sen. Stevens can run for reelection despite his convicted felon status…
Ironically, though, it looks like Stevens may not be able to vote for himself. Felons whose crimes involve ‘moral turpitude’ (defined by state law to include bribery, Alaska Stat. 15.60.010(9)) cannot vote in Alaska, at least until their civil rights are restored, which only happens when ‘a person is released from all disability arising under a conviction and sentence, including probation and parole.’ (The statute is at this citation: Alaska Stat. 15.60.010(39).) Deregistration from the voting rolls is automatic upon conviction.
Stevens was convicted of violating ethics disclosure rules. Technically the indictment charged violation of the federal criminal statute 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a crime to knowingly fill out a federal form falsely. I guess the question now is whether that offense fits within the definition of a ‘felony involving moral turpitude’ under Alaska law.”
Shayana Kadidal, "Can Ted Stevens Vote for Himself? Not Anymore," huffingtonpost.com, Oct. 27, 2008
Jan. 5, 2010 - 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals Rules that Washington's Disenfranchisement Law Violates the Voting Rights ActA three judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in Farrakhan v. Gregoire that Washington's law disenfranchising people with felony convictions 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 received 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 Law Disenfranchising People with Felony Convictions Upheld in en banc Reversal of 9th US Circuit Court DecisionOn 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 law disenfranchising of people with felony convictions 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 Massachusetts Voting Case Simmons v. GalvinOn 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 people with felony convictions 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 People with Felony Convictions Who Have Completed Their SentencesOn 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. People with felony convictions 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.
Iowa Executive Order 70, Jan. 14, 2011
Mar. 9, 2011 - Florida Rescinds Automatic Voting Restoration for People with Felony Convictions Who Have Completed Their SentencesOn 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 People with Felony Convictions until Completion of ProbationOn Mar. 19, 2012, HB 1247 was enacted. The bill took the ability to vote away from people with felony convictions serving terms of probation. Previously, only persons on parole or incarcerated were ineligible to register to vote. Now people with felony convictions 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 ActOn 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 people with felony convictions 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 People with Nonviolent Felony Convictions Who Have Completed Their Full SentencesOn May 29, 2013, Governor Bob McDonnell announced that he will automatically restore the ability to vote to all people with nonviolent felony convictions 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.
Governor McDonnell's Letter Outlining His Policy Changes, governor.virginia.gov, May 29, 2013
Feb. 11, 2014 - Attorney General Eric Holder Calls for Restoration of the Vote to People Convicted of a FelonyIn a speech on criminal justice reform at 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."
"Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform at Georgetown University Law Center," www.justice.gov, Feb. 11, 2013
“Holder Urges States to Repeal Bans on Felons’ Voting,” nytimes.com, Feb. 11, 2014
Nov. 24, 2015 - Voting Rights Restored to People with Nonviolent Felony Convictions 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."
"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 People with Nonviolent Felony Convictions 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.'"
"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 People with Felony Convictions 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."
"Voting Rights Restored to 40,000 Marylanders," brennancenter.org, Feb. 9, 2016
Apr. 22, 2016 - Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to All People with Felony Convictions"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."
"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 People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences 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."
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."
Washington Times, "Virginia Court Nixes Order Restoring Felons’ Voting Rights," washingtontimes.com, July 22, 2016
Governor McAuliffe’s Statement on the Virginia Supreme Court Decision (accessed July 26, 2016)
Sep. 28, 2016 - California Governor Restores Voting to People with Felony Convictions Serving Time in County JailsGovernor Jerry Brown signed AB2466, which allows those serving low-level felony conviction sentences in county jails to vote. The bill also restores voting rights to people who have completed felony sentences on probation or under community supervision. The bill does not change the voting status of those serving felony convictions in state or federal prisons.
CBS Sacramento, "Gov. Brown Signs Bill Allowing Felons to Vote in Jail," sacramento.cbslocal.com, Sep. 28, 2016
July 1, 2017 - Wyoming Makes Voting Rights Restoration AutomaticAs of July 1, 2017, people convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed all aspects of their sentences will have their right to vote automatically restored. Previously, people who have completed felony sentences had to submit an application to be reenfranchised.
Ruth Kimata, "As of This Month Former Wyoming Felons Will Have the Right to Vote," wyomingnewsnow.tv, July 21, 2017
Apr. 18, 2018 - New York Governor Gives Conditional Pardons to People with Felony Convictions Who Are on Parole to Restore VoteGovernor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that will give conditional pardons to people with felony convictions who are on parole. The pardons will restore voting rights to about 35,000 people with felony convictions.
Joseph Spector, "Andrew Cuomo to Grant Voting Rights to Paroles Felons in New York," democratandchronicle.com, Apr. 18, 2018
May 31, 2018 - People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences in Louisiana to Regain Voting Rights after Five YearsGovernor John Bel Edwards signed a law that will reenfranchise people who have completed felony sentences who have been out of prison for five years but are on probation or parole. The law immediately impacts about 2,200 people, about 3% of over 70,000 people on probation or parole in Louisiana.
Elizabeth Crisp, "Gov. John Bel Edwards Signs Law Restoring Felon Voting Rights after Five Years," theadvocate.com, May 31, 2018
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."
"Florida Passes Amendment to Restore Felons’ Voting Rights," washingtonpost.com, Nov. 7, 2018
May 30, 2019 - Nevada Restores the Vote to about 77,000 People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences"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."
"Nevada Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bills," kolotv.com, May 30, 2019
July 1, 2019 - Colorado Parolees Now Eligible to VoteA new Colorado law went into effect on July 1, 2019 that restores the vote to people with felony convictions who are on parole. 11,467 parolees were eligible to register to vote when the law went into effect
Alex Burness, "As of Today, 11467 Colorado Parolees Can Register to Vote. Will They?," coloradoindependent.com, July 1, 2019
Dec. 12, 2019 - Kentucky Governor Restores Vote to People with Nonviolent Felony ConvictionsGovernor Andy Beshear signed an executive order restoring voting rights to people with nonviolent felony convictions in the state. The order could allow up to 140,000 people with felony convictions to vote and reverses former Governor Matt Bevin's Dec. 15, 2015 reversal of former Governor Steven L. Beshear's Nov. 24, 2015 voting restoration.
Sam Levine, "Kentucky's New Democratic Governor Allows 140,000 Ex-Felons to Vote," theguardian.com, Dec. 12, 2019
Dec. 18, 2019 - New Jersey Reenfranchises People with Felony Convictions on Parole or ProbationNew Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a voting rights restoration law for people with felony convictions who are on parole or probation. The law is expected to affect more than 80,000 people.
Vanessa Romo, "New Jersey Governor Signs Bills Restoring Voting Rights To More Than 80,000 People," npr.org, Dec. 18, 2019
Jan. 16, 2020 - Florida Supreme Court Rules People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences 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  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 - People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences in Florida Cannot Be Barred from Voting for Owing Court Fees, Rules Federal JudgeUS District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled on Sunday, May 24, 2020 that parts of the Florida law requiring people who have completed felony sentences to pay court fees, fines, and restitution to victims before they can vote is unconstitutional.
Hinkle ruled that the following people who have completed felony sentences 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
[Editor’s Note: The US Supreme Court ruled on July 16, 2020, that the law requiring payment of fines prior to restoration of voting rights can be enforced by the state of Florida. The case remains in federal appeals court, but, until the resolution of that case, people who have completed felony sentences in Florida may be required to pay any and all outstanding court fines and fees before being allowed to register to vote.
Source: Dan Berman, “Supreme Court Says Florida Can Enforce Law Limiting Felons Who Owe Fines from Voting,” cnn.com, July 16, 2020]
Aug. 5, 2020 - Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Signs Executive Order Restoring Vote to Some People Who Have Completed Felony SentencesIowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order automatically restoring the vote to some people who have completed felony sentences. People convicted of felony homicide will still have to apply for reenfranchisement.
Iowa was the last remaining state to have a complete ban on voting for people who have completed felony sentences. The state constitution still disenfranchises all people who have completed felony sentences so the next governor could easily overturn Reynolds' executive order.
Veronica Stracqualursi, “Iowa Governor Signs Executive Order Restoring Some Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights,” cnn.com, Aug. 5, 2020
Sep. 11, 2020 - Appeals Court Upholds Florida Law Requiring Fine and Fee PaymentThe 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 6-4 that Florida can require repayment of fines and fees before people who have completed felony sentences are eligible to vote. The court stated, "Florida withholds the franchise from any felon, regardless of wealth, who has failed to complete any term of his criminal sentence—financial or otherwise." This ruling overturns the May 24, 2020 ruling that struck down the repayment requirement.
J. Edward Moreno, “Court Upholds Florida Law Requiring Felons to Pay Fines, Fees before They Can Vote,” thehill.com, Sep. 11, 2020
Sep. 22, 2020 - Snoop Dogg and Mike Tyson to Vote for First Time in Nov. 2020 ElectionRapper and TV star Snoop Dogg and former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson both said they would vote for the first time in the Nov. 2020 election. Both stars were convicted of felonies, Snoop Dogg in 1990 and 2007 and Tyson in 1992.
Snoop Dogg explained that he was lead to believe he couldn't vote even after his record was expunged. He stated about voting, "We got to make a difference, I can't talk about it and not be about it. I can't tell you to do it and then not go do it... If I tell you to do something, I done it already."
Mike Tyson was ineligible to vote until this year due to Nevada law. Nevada restored voting rights to former felons in 2019. Tyson tweeted on Sep. 22, 2020, "This election will be my 1st time voting. I never thought I could because of my felony record. I’m proud to finally vote."
Kelsie Smith, "Why This Year Will Be the First Time Mike Tyson Will Vote," cnn.com, Sep. 22, 2020
Jasmine Ting, "Snoop Dogg Is Voting for the Very First Time Ever," papermag.com, June 7, 2020
Mike Tyson, Twitter.com, Sep. 22, 2020
Nov. 3, 2020 - California Voters Approve Proposition 17On Nov. 3, 2020, California voters approved Proposition 17, which allows people on parole to vote.
Ballotpedia, “California Proposition 17, Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment,” ballotpedia.org (accessed Nov. 4, 2020)
Mar. 16, 2021 - Virginia Governor Allows Vote after PrisonOn Mar. 16, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam issued rules that allows those with felony convictions to vote as soon as they have completed their prison sentences.
Fredreka Schouten, “Virginia Gov. Northam Restores Voting Rights to 69,000 Former Felons with New Policy,” cnn.com, Mar. 16, 2021
Apr. 7, 2021 - Washington Governor Restores Vote to Those Who Have Finished Prison SentencesLegislation signed on Apr. 7, 2021 by Governor Jay Inslee restores the right to vote upon release from prison and goes into effect in Jan. 2022. Until then, the right to vote is not restored until prison, parole, and probation are completed.
Jay Inslee, twitter.com, Apr 7, 2021
May 4, 2021 - New York Governor Restores Vote after PrisonOn May 4, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed a bill into law that automatically restores voting rights upon release from prison, even if the person is on parole. Previously, under Cuomo’s executive order, the person would have to apply for a review of records.
Jordan Williams, “Cuomo Signs Legislation Restoring Voting Rights to Felons upon Release from Prison,” thehill.com, May 5, 2021
Aug. 23, 2021 - Apr. 6, 2022 - North Carolina Voting Rights in QuestionOn Aug. 23, 2021, a three-judge panel in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction declaring that people convicted of felonies who have completed their prison time must be allowed to register to vote immediately. The injunction restored the right to vote to about 56,000 people who are on probation, parole or post-release supervision.
On Sep. 14, 2021, the NC Supreme Court put that ruling on hold while it was appealed. According to Democracy Docket, “Individuals in the state who are on probation, parole or a suspended sentence may no longer register to vote while the case moves through the appeals process, though those who registered to vote before the lower court’s ruling was paused are still considered registered voters.”
On Mar. 28, 2022, a NC state court ruled that people with felony convictions could vote once released from prison. However, that ruling was temporarily stayed, pending appeals to the NC State Supreme Court, by the Wake County Superior Court. The ruling states that the NC Board of Election should hold and not act upon voter registrations by people with felony convictions who are out of prison.
North Carolina is marked as a state where people out of prison may vote because some people can if they registered in 2021 before that ruling was stayed. But, as of Apr. 6, 2022, no new registrations are being processed for people on parole or probation, though registrations may be submitted.
Associated Press, “Roughly 56,000 Felony Offenders Can Now Vote In North Carolina,” npr.org, Aug. 23, 2021
Carolina Journal Staff, “Felon Voting Ban Is Racially Motivated and Unconstitutional, NC Judges ruleAppeals Court Blocks Ruling That Would Allow Felons to Vote in N.C.,” carolinajournal.com, Apr. 5, 2022
Democracy Docket, “North Carolina Supreme Court Rolls Back Voting Rights Win for Former Felons,” democracydocket.com, Sep. 14, 2021
Will Doran, “Felon Voting Ban Is Racially Motivated and Unconstitutional, NC Judges Rule,” newsobserver.com, Mar. 29, 2022
Mychael Schnell, “Civil Rights Groups: North Carolina Ruling Will Allow 56K Felony Offenders to Vote,” thehill.com, Aug. 23, 2021
June 23, 2021 - Connecticut Governor Restores Vote to Everyone Not in PrisonOn June 23, 2021, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed legislation restoring the right to vote to all state residents who are not in prison. Previously, people with felony convictions had to have completed parole to vote.
Brennan Center for Justice, “Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Connecticut,” brennancenter.org, May 25, 2021
May 20, 2022 - Virginia Governor Restores Vote to Those with Completed SentencesOn May 20, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced he would restore voting (and other civil) rights to 3,496 people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences. The Youngkin administration stated rights would be restored “on an ongoing basis.”
Laura Vozzella, “VA. Gov. Youngkin Restores Voting Rights to Thousands of Ex-Felons,” washingtonpost.com, May 20, 2022
Oct. 25, 2022 - 4.6 Million People Disenfranchised Due to Felony ConvictionsAccording to The Sentencing Project, about 4.6 million Americans, or 2% of the US population, with felony convictions are unable to vote because of state restrictions on voting. 48 states have some sort of restriction on voting for those with felony convictions, with state-level disenfranchisement ranging from 0.15% in Massachusetts to more than 8% in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Ashley Lopez, "In the U.S., Some 4.6 Million People Are Disenfranchised Due to a Felony Conviction," npr.org, Oct. 25, 2022
Mar. 3, 2023 - Minnesota Governor Restores Vote to Those Who Have Completed Prison SentencesOn Mar. 3, 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed SF26, which restored the right to vote to people convicted of felonies once they complete their prison sentence(s). Minnesota previously required that parole was completed.
Sydney Kashiwagi, “Minnesota Governor Signs Bill Expanding Voting Rights for Ex-Felons,” cnn.com, Mar. 3, 2023
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