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Find out which states are restoring felons’ voting rights

Federal Bureau of Prisons (Photo Source

Federal Bureau of Prisons (Photo credit:

“This plan [to disenfranchise felons] will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than 5 years, so that in no single county…will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.” – late Virginia Congressman Carter Glass while advocating for racist measures written into the Virginia Constitution in 1906.

Poll taxes and literacy tests have been eliminated as key pillars used to enforce White supremacy in the South. However, the struggle continues to undo the felony disenfranchisement element of a monstrous prison industrial complex, the stench of a decaying Jim Crow that still wafts over most of the country.

Virginia is the latest state to soften its disenfranchisement of felons by restoring voting rights to over 200,000 people in April.

“The whole genesis of what we’re talking about goes to the core of racism in this country…Many African Americans were being arrested early on in the southern states, so predominantly African Americans were being charged with felonies.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe told the Atlantic this week.

Cynics see it as a political move to garner votes for the Democrats, but lately prison reform has been a bipartisan effort. Bob McDonnell, McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, also took action to restore the vote to 10,000 nonviolent ex-felons.

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“In the wake of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, felony disenfranchisement replaced Jim Crow as a primary means of suppressing voters of color,” National Urban League president and CEO Marc H. Morial said. “It’s no coincidence that, as African Americans are disproportionately represented at every level of the criminal justice system from arrest to sentencing, so we are disproportionately disenfranchised. Gov. McAuliffe has taken a major step toward righting the racial wrongs of the past.”

According to The Sentencing Project, 5.85 million Americans with felonies can’t vote, and 38 percent of those restricted voters are Black.

Check out this resource for ex-offenders to learn the status of voting rights in each state, but here is a brief summary of the legal landscape:

Maine and Vermont – There is no loss of rights. Voting can be done via absentee ballot even while in jail.

Virginia, 38 other states, and DC – Voting rights are restored after full sentence is complete. The definition of “complete” varies by state, and can include parole, probation, and post-sentence, in addition to time in prison.

Alabama – Felon voting rights can be restored once the full sentence is complete. This has to be applied for.

Arizona – Automatically restored after sentence completion if only one felony. A petition of the sentencing court is required for multiple felonies.

Florida – Must apply for clemency and also wait 5 or 7 years, depending on the circumstances.

Iowa – Can apply for the right to vote after fulfillment of sentence and payment of all fines and restoration fees.

Kentucky – Must submit an application to the governor, the only person who can restore voting rights.

Mississippi – People convicted of specific crimes (murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy) listed in the state constitution must be pardoned by the governor; otherwise there is no loss of rights and voting can be done even while in jail.

Nevada – Nonviolent and first-time offenders’ rights restored sentence is complete; others must submit a petition.

Tennessee – Must pay any restitution, fines, and child support due, then get a court order restoring voting rights after completion of sentence, unless the crime was murder, rape, treason, or voting fraud, which requires a pardon.

Wyoming – Must apply to the governor after sentence is completed. First time and nonviolent offenders must wait five years. Restoration is up to the parole board.


  1. rogerclegg on June 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    If you aren’t willing to follow the law
    yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else,
    which is what you do when you vote. The
    right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a
    case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned
    over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most
    people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website
    here [ ] and our congressional testimony here: [
    ]. The testimony refutes the claim that these laws are racist, by the way.

    • Hobknobed on June 8, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      “Because you don’t have a right to make the laws if you aren’t willing to follow them yourself. ”

      This is a terrible reason to disenfranchise someone from taking part in shaping their society. It implicitly argues that law is by definition right and inarugably just. In reality, this is simply a different excuse for the government to exclude people that it doesn’t like from democratic participation. It’s no different from poll taxes or literacy tests – it’s simply a different method of accomplishing the same goal of keeping undesirables away from the voting booth. Note that this rationale doesn’t consider the content of law-breaking, instead applying a logic similar to the Broken Windows Theory, that breaking any law is a sign of poor character and a sufficient reason to be excluded. Whatever is defined as a “felony” is all we need to go on, potentially forever, whether that’s signing up your personal enemy for dozens of magazine subscriptions or raping children at your local church. Even in the worst cases, though, saying that because someone did bad things, they shouldn’t be able to have a say on things like whether we will spend massive amounts of money to bomb people around the world or, more importantly for them, if there actually will be a practical path for people like themselves to actually rejoin society, is cruel and unjust. We should be better than that.