Last updated on: 3/12/2014 | Author:

Top 10 Pro & Con Arguments

Should felons who have completed their sentence (incarceration, probation, and parole) be allowed to vote?

1. Trusting a Felon’s Judgment

“We let ex-convicts marry, reproduce, buy beer, own property and drive. They don’t lose their freedom of religion, their right against self-incrimination or their right not to have soldiers quartered in their homes in time of war. But in many places, the assumption is that they can’t be trusted to help choose our leaders… If we thought criminals could never be reformed, we wouldn’t let them out of prison in the first place.”

Steve Chapman
Columnist and Editorial Writer at the Chicago Tribune
“Too Many Ex-Convicts Aren’t Able to Vote,”
StarTribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul
Aug. 15, 2006

“We don’t let children vote, for instance, or noncitizens, or the mentally incompetent. Why? Because we don’t trust them and their judgment…

So the question is, do criminals belong in that category? And I think the answer is clearly yes. People who commit serious crimes have shown that they are not trustworthy.”

Roger Clegg, JD
President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity
Debate held by the Legal Affairs Debate Club
Nov. 1, 2004


2. Felon Disenfranchisement and Race

“In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books. And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore – it is also too unjust to tolerate…

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. Throughout America, 2.2 million black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws. In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five.”

Eric H. Holder, JD
Former US Attorney General
“Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform at Georgetown University Law Center,”
Feb. 11, 2014

“Upon my election as attorney general, I inherited clemency rules that allowed the vast majority of felons to have their civil rights restored upon the completion of their criminal sentence, without the need to apply and without any mandatory waiting period…

Last week [Florida]… reinstated a requirement that those seeking restoration submit an application and imposed a minimum five-year waiting period…

For those who may suggest that these rule changes have anything to do with race, these assertions are completely unfounded. Justice has nothing to do with race. In a recent case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals examined the historical record and soundly rejected the argument that Florida’s prohibition on felon voting was originally motivated by racial discrimination.”

Pam Bondi, JD
Florida Attorney General
“Clemency Shift Upholds Rule of Law,”,
Mar. 16, 2011


3. Congressional Authority over Voting

“There are three potential constitutional bases for Congress’s authority to enfranchise non-incarcerated offenders for federal elections :

– Congress’s supervisory power over federal elections, rooted in Article 1, Sec. 4;

– Congress’s enforcement power under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, and

– Congress’s enforcement power under Section Two of the Fifteenth Amendment.”

Gillian E. Metzger, JD
Professor of Law at Columbia University Law School
Memorandum to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution,
Oct. 20, 1999

“Most prominently, the 14th Amendment makes felon voting a state prerogative, not a federal one…

The senators’ bill [Count Every Vote Act of 2005], by contrast, tosses out the Constitution and declares in no uncertain terms that felon voting should be a federal issue… If voters choose to change state laws regarding felons and voting, it’s their prerogative. Federalism allows for such state-level experimentation, and it’s at the state level where the consequences of new felon-voting laws will best be judged. Congress should let the process play itself out, as the Constitution allows it to.”

Washington Times
“Felons and Democratic Politicking,”
Mar. 8, 2005


4. US Voting Rights Act of 1965

“It is plain to anyone reading the Voting Rights Act that it applies to all ‘voting qualification[s].’ And it is equally plain that [New York Election Law] § 5-106 [which denies the vote to incarcerated felons and felons on parole] disqualifies a group of people from voting. These two propositions should constitute the entirety of our analysis. Section 2 of the Act by its unambiguous terms subjects felony disenfranchisement and all other voting qualifications to its coverage.

The duty of a judge is to follow the law, not to question its plain terms. I do not believe that Congress wishes us to disregard the plain language of any statute or to invent exceptions to the statutes it has created. The majority’s ‘wealth of persuasive evidence’ that Congress intended felony disenfranchisement laws to be immune from scrutiny… includes not a single legislator actually saying so. But even if Congress had doubts about the wisdom of subjecting felony disenfranchisement laws to the results test of § 2, I trust that Congress would prefer to make any needed changes itself, rather than have courts do so for it.”

Sonia Sotomayor, JD
Supreme Court Justice and former Circuit Judge of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
Dissent in Hayden v. Pataki
May 4, 2006

“The Court of Appeals (José A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge) concludes that the Voting Rights Act must be construed to not encompass prisoner disenfranchisement provisions such as that of New York because (a) Congress did not intend the Voting Rights Act to cover such provisions and (b) Congress made no clear statement indicating an intent to modify the federal balance by applying the Voting Rights Act to these provisions…

[T]here are persuasive reasons to believe that Congress did not intend to include felon disenfranchisement provisions within the coverage of the Voting Rights Act, and we must therefore look beyond the plain text of the statute in construing the reach of its provisions…

We therefore conclude that [The Voting Rights Act] was not intended to – and thus does not – encompass felon disenfranchisement provisions.”

Hayden v. Pataki
8-5 decision
United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit May 4, 2006


5. Constitutionality

“The Eighth Amendment ‘succinctly prohibits ‘excessive’ sanctions,’ and demands that ‘punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense’… Thus, the states that continue to exclude all felons permanently are outliers, both within the United States and in the world.”

Pamela S. Karlan, JD
Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford University
“Convictions and Doubts: Retribution, Representation, and the Debate over Felon Disenfranchisement,”
Stanford Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 5,

“Unlike any other voting qualification, felon disenfranchisement laws are explicitly endorsed by the text of the Fourteenth Amendment…. They are presumptively constitutional. Only a narrow subset of them – those enacted with an invidious, racially discriminatory purpose – is unconstitutional.”

Alex Kozinski, JD
Circuit Judge, US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Dissent in Farrakhan v. State of Washington Feb. 24, 2006


6. Voting while in Prison

“[T]he argument that allowing prisoners to vote would be costly and impractical is ethically unjustifiable. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights.

Denying prisoners the right to vote is likely to undermine respect for the rule of law… Allowing prisoners to vote, by contrast, may strengthen their social ties and commitment to the common good, thus promoting legally responsible participation in civil society.”

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

“[P]rison is meant to be a punishment. A custodial sentence has always resulted in loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence. Why change that?…

The main point of a prison sentence is to show the offender and society as a whole that criminal behaviour results in loss of freedom and most of the rights that freedom offers.”

Jonathan Aitken, JD
Former Member of British Parliament and convicted felon
“Prisoners Don’t Care About Their Right to Vote,” UK Telegraph,
Dec. 15, 2006


7. Automatic Restoration of the Vote

“I believe that the commission of a crime must have a tough and just consequence…

I also believe that once an offender has fully paid his debt to society, he deserves a second chance…

It is a mark of good government to restore felons’ rights and provide them the opportunity to succeed and become law-abiding citizens again…

Therefore, I am amending the criteria used to adjudicate non-violent felons applications for restoration of rights. With these changes, Virginia will have an automatic restoration of rights process.”

Robert F. McDonnell, JD, MPP, MBA
Former Governor of Virginia
Governor McDonnell’s letter outlining his felon voting policy changes
May 29, 2013

“Felons seeking restoration of rights will also be required to demonstrate that they desire and deserve clemency by applying only after they have shown they are willing to abide by the law…

Restoration of civil rights will not be granted ‘automatically’ for any offenses…

The Restoration of Civil Rights can be a significant part of the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and can assist them in reentry into society. It is important that this form of clemency be granted in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that prioritizes public safety and creates incentives to avoid criminal activity.”

Rick Scott, JD
Governor of Florida
“Governor Scott and Florida Cabinet Discuss Amended Rules of Executive Clemency,”
Mar. 9, 2011


8. Voting before Fines and Restitution Paid

“People should not be barred from voting solely because they are unable to pay back their fines, fees and interest. If we truly want people convicted of felonies to re-engage with society, become rehabilitated, and feel a part of a broader community (thus creating incentives not to recidivate) then our State should do everything possible to re-incorporate these individuals into mainstream society. In terms of being a just and even handed society, it is not fair if thousands of people are unable to re-gain their voting rights because they are poor… People who are wealthy or have access to money are able to repay their financial debts and poor people (the vast majority of people who have felony convictions) are not. This is an unjust system.”

Alexes Harris, PhD
Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington
Email to,
Jan. 13, 2010

“We believe a rational basis does exist for the Legislature to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed their entire court-ordered sentences, including payment of criminal penalties, victim’s restitution, and legal fees, rather than separating out various sentencing aspects.”

Rob McKenna, JD
Former Attorney General of the State of Washington
Sam Reed
Former Washington Secretary of State
“State to Appeal Ruling Granting Voting Rights to Felons Who Owe Fines,”
Seattle Times
Mar. 29, 2006


9. Social Contract Theory

“Despite its initial attractiveness, the use of social contract theory to defend felon disenfranchisement is in fact specious. Under a regime of disenfranchisement, an individual who breaches the social contract continues to be bound by the terms of the contract even after being stripped of the ability to take part in political decisions. However, contract doctrine does not allow an injured party to force the breacher to perform its contractual duties without the injured party performing its own. The contract can be terminated or the injured party can accept the performance, but the injured party cannot simply pick and choose which terms will remain and which will not…

Social contract theory and the objectives of punishment fail to provide a satisfactory explanation for the denial of one of the most fundamental rights to millions of citizens.”

Jason D. Schall, JD
Associate with Steptoe and Johnson LLP
“The Consistency of Felon Disenfranchisement with Citizenship Theory,”

“As a policy justification, Locke’s social contract theory has withstood the test of time; it served a rationale for the enactment of felon disenfranchisement laws in the past, and remains a compelling argument today.

When someone commits a crime, he commits it not just against the victim, but against our entire society. Protests that time served is enough, and that society should prioritize the rehabilitation and reintegration of felons should fall on deaf ears.

Opponents of disenfranchisement claim that the inability to vote stymies felons’ ‘remittance into a law-abiding society.’ Yet they neglect to explain why the tonic of voting did not curtail felons from committing crimes initially.”

George Brooks, JD
“Felon Disenfranchisement: Law, History, Policy, and Politics,”
Fordham Urban Law Journal


10. Felons and Political Party Affiliation

“[In New York] ex-felons who are registered overwhelmingly register as Democrats. Of those discharge records that match to at least one voter file record, 61.5 percent match only to Democratic voter records. In contrast, 25.5 percent match only to voter records with no affiliation or an affiliation with a minor party, while 9 percent match only to Republican voter records…

…[R]egistered ex-felons in New Mexico tend to be overwhelmingly Democrat: 51.9 percent match to only registered Democrats, 18.9 percent match to only registered Republicans, 21.7 percent match to only individuals registered neither as Democrats nor Republicans, and 7.5 percent match to multiple individuals who affiliate with different parties.”

Marc Meredith, PhD
Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania
Michael Morse
Research Fellow at Stanford Law School
“Do Voting Rights Notification Laws Increase Ex-Felon Turnout?,”
Annals of the American Academy of Political Science
Nov. 18, 2013

“We know for a fact that nonunion, blue-collar, Caucasian men vote very disproportionately Republican, and when you look at the felon population in the state of Washington, they are overwhelmingly nonunion, blue-collar, male Caucasians.”

Paul Berendt
Former Washington State Democratic Party Chairman
“Democrats Flag 743 Votes They Say Felons Cast,”
Punishment Violate Medical Ethics,”
Seattle Times
May 7, 2005