In June, voting rights for people with prior convictions received widespread media attention when prison strikers across the country put the issue on their list of demands.Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, “Prison Strike 2018,” June 19, 2018 (Demand 10: “The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called ‘ex-felons’ must be counted”).
According to the most recent data, an estimated 6.1 million people in the United States have lost the right to vote—known as disenfranchisement—because of a conviction.Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon, 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016 (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2016).
Voting laws vary widely by state. Some—such as Alabama and Mississippi—permanently strip people with certain felony convictions of their right to vote; only two—Maine and Vermont—allow people to vote while in prison.ProCon.org, “State Felon Voting Laws,”
Others, such as Illinois and California, permit the restoration of voting rights after incarceration, probation, or parole.ProCon.org, “State Felon Voting Laws,”. Twenty-one states reinstate voting rights on sentence completion; four disenfranchise those in prison or on parole, but allow those on probation to vote; and 13 states disenfranchise those in prison but allow individuals or probation or parole to vote.
But the disenfranchisement map is shrinking. In November, nearly two-thirds of Florida voters approved amending the state constitution to restore voting rights to people who complete sentences for felony convictions, excluding those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.Helderman, “Florida Restores Voting Rights for Felons,” 2018; and “Election 2018: Florida Amendment 4,” CNN. Initially proposed in January by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the amendment received support from both liberal- and conservative-leaning organizations, including the ACLU and Freedom Partners, a political action committee connected to the Koch brothers.Floridians for a Fair Democracy, “Second Chances”; and Steve Bousquet, “Koch-funded Group Supports Voting Rights for Felons in Florida,” Tampa Bay Times, September 13, 2018. As a result, as many as 1.4 million people may be eligible to regain the right to vote.German Lopez, “One in 10 Potential Florida Voters Can’t Legally Vote. Amendment 4 Could Change That,” Vox, November 6, 2018. Before the measure’s passage, 27 percent of all people in the United States who had been disenfranchised after a felony conviction lived in Florida.Uggen, Larson, and Shannon, 6 Million Lost Voters, 2016, 3.
Post-conviction voting rights advanced in other states as well. In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order establishing a process to restore voting rights to people under parole supervision, which could enfranchise 35,000 people.Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Executive Order No. 181, “Restoring the Right to Vote for New Yorkers on Parole,” April 18, 2018; and “Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in New York,” Brennan Center for Justice, April 18, 2018. In Louisiana, HB 265 passed in May in a bipartisan effort; the measure restores voting rights to people convicted of felonies who are on probation or parole so long as they are not incarcerated during a five-year waiting period.Louisiana HB 265 (2018); and “Voting Rights Bill for Some Louisiana Felons Wins Passage,” U.S. News & World Report, May 17, 2018. The state currently has 70,000 people who could be impacted by the measure, which goes into effect March 1, 2019.“Disenfranchisement News: Louisiana Expands Voting Rights to People on Probation and Parole,” The Sentencing Project, May 24, 2018; and Louisiana HB 265 (2018). In June, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB 18-150, permitting people on parole to pre-register to vote, although they remain ineligible to vote until their parole ends.Colorado SB 18-150 (2018).