US History of Felon Voting / Disenfranchisement
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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 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."
Debora Parkes, LLM "Ballot Boxes Behind Bars: Toward the Repeal of Prisoner Disenfranchisement Laws," Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review, Fall 2003
[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)
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
1792 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.
1793 Vermont Constitution , July 9, 1793
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."
1802 Ohio Constitution , Nov. 29, 1802
1812 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."
1816 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."
1817 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."
1818 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."
1819 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.
1820 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."
1821 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."
1830 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.
1831 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."
1834 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.
1838 Florida Constitution , Dec. 3, 1838
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."
1842 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."
1844 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."
1845 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."
1845 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."
1846 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."
1846 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."
1848 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.
1849 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."
1851 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.
1857 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.
1857 Oregon Constitution , Nov. 1857
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)
15th Amendment: Constitution of the United States of America , Feb. 3, 1870
Utah History Encyclopedia "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."
Elizabeth Hull, PhD The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons, 2006
Civil Rights Act of 1957 , 1957
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "Voting Rights Act Timeline," www.aclu.org Mar. 4, 2005
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
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 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..."
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... 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 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."
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 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 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 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."
Hunter v. Underwood , Apr. 16, 1985
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
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 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 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.
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 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.
Dec. 2007 - Barack Obama Supports Felon Re-EnfranchisementPresidential 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
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 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 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. 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 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 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. 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.
Iowa Executive Order 70 Jan. 14, 2011
Mar. 9, 2011 - Florida Rescinds Automatic Voting Restoration for Convicted Felons 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 Convicted Felons until Completion of ProbationOn 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 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 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
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)
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
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."
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
'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
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
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
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, 2016In 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)
Sep. 28, 2016 - California Governor Restores Voting to Convicted Felons 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 former felons 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, former felons 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 Former Felons 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 former felons.
Joseph Spector, "Andrew Cuomo to Grant Voting Rights to Paroles Felons in New York," democratandchronicle.com, Apr. 18, 2018
May 31, 2018 - Former Felons in Louisiana to Regain Voting Rights after Five YearsGovernor John Bel Edwards signed a law that will reenfranchise former felons 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
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
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
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 Nonviolent FelonsGovernor 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 former felons 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 Former Felons on Parole or ProbationNew Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a voting rights restoration law for former felons 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
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
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, former felons 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]
Iowa was the last remaining state to have a complete ban on voting for former felons. The state constitution still disenfranchises all former felons 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
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