Last updated on: 4/25/2008 | Author:

How Do US Felon Disenfranchisement Laws Compare to Those of Other Countries?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Brandon Rottinghaus, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the Bureau of Public Affairs Research, University of Idaho, stated in his 2003 article “Incarceration and Enfranchisement: International Practices, Impact, and Recommendations for Reform,” published by the International Foundation for Election Systems:

“A democracy is necessarily constructed of those who are given voice in the political process. Each country listed and analyzed in this study has a specific reason for disenfranchising prisoners or ex-prisoners, seeking a balance between the public order for the protection of society and the extension of democratic voting rights to individual citizens. The tenor and tilt of this balance can be questioned for the same reason that the balance exists in the first place: democracies allow the public will to be translated (although not perfectly) into policy action.”

2003 - Incarceration and Enfranchisement: International Practices, Impact, and Recommendations for Reform Brandon Rottinghaus, PhD

Debra Parkes, LLM, Asst. Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba, stated in her Fall 2003 article “Ballot Boxes Behind Bars: Towards the Repeal of Prisoner Disenfranchisement Laws,” published in the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review:

“The process of disenfranchising prisoners is neither limited to the United States, nor universal. Denmark, Israel, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland are just some of the countries that place no restrictions on prisoners’ rights to vote. Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom currently practice criminal disenfranchisement in a more limited way than the United States, barring only certain offenders from voting, and only while incarcerated.”

Fall 2003 - Ballot Boxes Behind Bars: Towards the Repeal of Prisoner Disenfranchisement Laws Debora Parkes, LLM

The Right to Vote Campaign stated in its Feb. 17, 2003 article “Felons and the Right to Vote,” published on their website, that:

“Eighteen European democracies permit incarcerated prisoners to vote, as do Canada and Puerto Rico. In the U.S., only the states of Maine and Vermont do so. No democracy other than the United States bars parolees from voting.”

2006 - Right to Vote Campaign

Jeff Manza, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, and Christopher Uggen, PhD, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, stated in their 2006 book Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy:

“Many countries, including a number of European democracies, allow all criminal offenders — even those currently in prison — to vote. Israel, Canada, and South Africa allow current inmates to vote on the basis of recent high court rulings. A group of other European nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand, disenfranchise only some current inmates.

In these countries, restrictions on prisoner voting are typically based on either the length of the sentence, the nature of the crime committed, or the type of election. Nine European countries bar all current prisoners from voting, but only a handful place any restrictions on nonincarcerated felons, and most of these apply only to a small minority of offenders.”

2006 - Christopher Uggen, PhD Jeff Manza, PhD

Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project stated in their 1998 report Losing The Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States, that:

“A few countries restrict the vote for a short period after conclusion of the prison term: Finland and New Zealand, for example, restrict the vote for several years after completion of sentence, but only in the case of persons convicted of buying or selling votes or of corrupt practices. Some countries condition disenfranchisement of prisoners on the seriousness of the crime or the length of their sentence. Others, e.g., Germany and France, permit disenfranchisement only when it is imposed by a court order.

Many countries permit persons in prison to vote. According to research by Penal Reform International, prisoners may vote in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Zimbabwe. In Germany, the law obliges prison authorities to encourage prisoners to assert their voting rights and to facilitate voting procedures. The only prisoners who may not vote are those convicted of electoral crimes or crimes (e.g., treason) that undermine the ‘democratic order,’ and whose court-imposed sentence expressly includes disenfranchisement.”

1998 - Sentencing Project Human Rights Watch