Thursday, August 12, 2010

Voting Rights of Ex-Offenders

The practice of disenfranchisement began in the United States at the end of the civil war in an effort to prevent anyone except white male landowners from voting. Now, however, after both women and African Americans have won their right to vote, another group remains segregated from voting rights.

Using information from the Brennan Center for Justice, Nonprofit Vote has developed a new page on our website that tracks each state’s felony disenfranchisement laws.

48 states do not permit felons to vote during their time in prison, the exceptions being Maine and Vermont. The majority of states have laws that prohibit ex-offenders from voting, even after they have completed their sentence. These laws vary, and in Kentucky and Virginia, ex-offenders are never again allowed to vote unless pardoned by the government. The United States is the only country that permits permanent disenfranchisement of felons even after sentences have been served.

Misinformation about ex-offender voting rights abounds, as researchers found that nearly 30% of people with criminal convictions surveyed in New York in 2005 thought they would never be eligible to vote again. However, this summer the New York legislature passed a law requiring criminal justice agencies to provide voting rights information to people who are again eligible to vote after a felony conviction.

New York’s new law is the latest in a national trend. Twenty-four other states already require certain state and local agencies to inform people when their voting rights are restored following a criminal conviction. Supporters of these laws argue that they will correct years of misinformation, promote successful reintegration, and help protect public safety, while building civic participation among traditionally disenfranchised communities.

Last year a retired New York parole chief testified before the New York Senate Elections Committee, “having the right to vote and learning how to exercise that right gives one a voice and a stake in the community; it promotes positive behavior and serves as a powerful conduit for making the transition from criminal to becoming a law abiding member of the community.” Read his full testimony here.

Check out our website for up to date information about the laws in your state and stay tuned for our upcoming Disenfranchisement Fact Sheet!

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