What are the Voting Rights of Convicted Felons?
When an individual is convicted of a felony, certain civil rights are immediately taken away upon the conviction, including the all-important right to vote. Specifically, this practice of denying suffrage is known as disenfranchisement, or for criminals specifically, felon disenfranchisement.
In the United States, this long-held custom bans roughly five million Americans from partaking in the voting process every year. While disenfranchisement has been associated with incarceration for some time, even as early as the development of the ancient Roman legal system which considered all serious crimes subject to a “civil death” of sorts, typically the intention of felon disenfranchisement is to take away voting rights of individuals only while they are incarcerated, but to reinstate them once their dues have been rightly paid.
Under most State laws, felon disenfranchisement can be annulled by submitting an official written request to voting officials of a State proving that they meet all the conditions of disenfranchisement revocation. That is, all monetary fines must have been paid and the terms of a prison sentence, including a good record of parole and probation if it applies, have been completed. A small fine may also have to be paid. In general, though, if a criminal has successfully completed his or her sentence, voting rights will automatically be restored and all an ex-felon must do is register to vote.
Some states, however, are far less lenient when it comes to the topic. Virginia and Kentucky, for instance, impose life disenfranchisement for convicted felons, despite constantly being advocated against by civil rights activists who claim it as discriminatory and an extended violation of the Voting Rights Act. Other states, like Maine and Vermont, on the other hand, do not adhere to felon disenfranchisement at all, allowing the majority of their incarcerated prisoners take part in the voting process.
As is evident, disenfranchisement rules will vary greatly from State to State, so consulting voting officials in the specific State that an individual has been convicted of their felony in will be the first step to take in felon disenfranchisement repeals.