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Felons and Their Right to Vote

Felonsand Their Right to Vote

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  1. Summary

  2. Negative impacts of disenfranchisement

  1. It encourages racism

  2. Undermines the rehabilitation process

  3. It acts against human dignity

  1. Importance of felons voting

  2. Categories of voting rights

  3. Barriers to the restoration of felons’ right to vote

  1. Complexity of processes and laws

  2. Under-funding of parole boards

  3. Inadequate communication among agencies

  1. Recent states’ actions on the voting rights of felons

  2. Conclusion

  3. Works Cited


Theright to vote is a special privilege given to every member of ademocratic society. Others may argue that voting is likewise aresponsibility. Yet, disagreement must not disrupt the voting rightof any citizen as this is a paramount significance for any nationthat claims to operate on the principles of democracy. Hence, it musteasily be followed that democratic advocates are expected to enforceas many citizens to vote because otherwise, this weakens the people’spower.

TheUnited States of America is presently in an ironic situation ofintroducing and enforcing democracy across the globe while notcompletely accepting and implementing it at its own country (Shapiro545). The Supreme Court decision to the Voting Rights Act has pavedthe way for states to start introducing regulations that discourageindividuals from voting by way of biased voter ID acts,gerrymandering, and voting restrictions. Legislators in variousstates enacted new restrictions in voting which merely contributed tothe increasing problems which Americans encounter in attempting toexercise their voting rights. This issue likewise includes theanti-democratic legislation of the voting rights of felons. When acitizen of America commits felony, majority of the states haveregulations that disenfranchise felons (Smith 208). Simply put,felons are not allowed to vote during or even after serving theirprison sentence. There have been varying issues as merely two statespermit convicted felons to exercise their voting rights while stillin prison or even after their release. Disenfranchisement amongfelons eliminates their dignity by downgrading them to a lowercitizen status. Hence, voting rights must be given to all citizens ofAmerica.

Felonsare individuals who have been convicted of a felony-a crime that ispunished by death, a term in state, or federal prison. Most felonsare convicted of various crimes, like burglary, rape, murder, andarson. Mcleod, Ismail and Amelia (66) note that about 21 countries,worldwide, rarely have any form of restrictions towards felon voting.South Africa, Israel and Germany are among the 21 countries that haverare restrictions on felons voting. New Zealand, France, andAustralia constitute another 15 countries that have limitedrestrictions on felon right to vote (Mcleod et al. 66). On the otherhand, most states in U.S bar felons from voting. The right to votefor all citizens is the core of any democratic society. Just likeanyone else, felons are human beings therefore, their human right toparticipate in a democratic voting process should not be denied.According to Shapiro (539), the health of a democratic society isendangered when ex-felons are denied the chance to vote. In theUnited States of America about 35 states bar some people from votingafter their release from prison (Shapiro 542). Each state has itsdifferent rule on when a person right to vote can be restored. Forinstance, in New York felons on probation can vote but those onparole cannot. In other states a felon is forced to apply for therestoration of his or her right to vote the application can eithergranted or denied state officials. Felon disenfranchisement acrossthe U.S is surrounded by enormous lack of information andtransparency. The rules applied during election are technical, andelections officials rarely get clear information on such rules.Dawson-Edwards (15) argue that most local election offices do notunderstand law hence, they demand for documents that do not existfrom felons. Clegg, George, and Kenneth (1) findings indicate thatmost people who conduct voting are partisan when it comes to felonvoting. In connection to this, Republics resist the restoration ofvoting rights while the Democrats try their best to restore thevoting rights of felons. In fact, some election officials andDemocrats in South Dakota and Missouri raised questions concerningthe employment of ex-felons and voter registration groups despite thefact that felons are equally entitled to voting and politicalactivities (Clegg et al. 1). Behrens, Christopher, and Jeff (601)argue that there is a need to reform the treatment that is accordedto former felons in the electoral system. One way of accomplishingthis would be through the removal of all prohibitions on felonvoting. The government should be committed towards ensuring that allits citizens are accorded the right to vote.

Negativeimpacts of disenfranchisement

Itencourages racism

Disenfranchisementencourages racism since most individuals who are affected by lawsthat bar ex-felons from voting are the minorities. Indeed, felondisenfranchisement laws have a negative racial impact Burkhardt(358) posits that approximately 13 percent of black men have beenbarred from voting after their votes were taken away. Other studiesshow that blacks constitute approximately 38 percent of those barredfrom voting by felons’ restrictions. Felony conviction has madeapproximately 4.7 million of Americans be barred from voting (Shapiro564). In addition, approximately a million ex-offenders aredisenfranchised. The whole process of denying felons the right tovote mostly occurs in both a chaotic and partisan manner.

Underminesthe rehabilitation process

Accordingto Smith (217), it is antidemocratic to deny ex-offenders since itundermines the commitment of the nation to rehabilitate individualswho have paid their debt to the community. Several policies on felonyre-enfranchisement amongst the 50 states create confusion amongstex-offenders who are willing to reform as well as amongst electoralofficials due to their inconsistence. Further studies show thatapproximately 30 percent of felons and ex-felons are willing to voteif given the right and chance to do so (Zetlin-Jones 411).

Itacts against human dignity

Felonydisenfranchisement denies ex-offender their human dignity since itrelegates them to the status of a second-class citizen. Likewise, itmakes subject such people to a nation or state that has no electoralaccountability to any person convicted of felony. In any case,denying ex-offenders the right to vote makes them feel that they haveno potential to improve hence, people should not assume that anex-offender cannot participate in various activities in a productivemanner.

Importanceof felons voting

Oneof the key components of democracy in America is the right to votehence, it should involve all Americans citizens. Excluding a largenumber of voters from participating in an electoral process simplybecause they are ex-offenders is equivalent to undermining theirdemocratic right. It is totally unfair for ex-felons to participatein the process of paying tax while being denied the right to vote(Uggen &amp Jeff 779). As a part of effective rehabilitation,felons’ right to vote should be restored upon completion of theirsentences. Most people have the notion that felons should never beallowed to vote. Opponents of felons voting argue that any personconvicted of the aforementioned crimes is unfit to make gooddecisions especially, when decisions to choose a national leader areconcerned. Nevertheless, proponents of felon’s rights to votingprocess argue that felons have paid enough of a price by servingtheir assigned sentence. The proponents further argue that it isextremely unfair to seemingly punish felons twice for the same actsince they have already paid their debt to the society during theirtime behind the bars (Uggen et al. 780).

Categoriesof voting rights

Unrestricted:Vermont and Maine states that have unrestricted rights to vote tofelons. Felons can vote during their incarceration period and aftertheir release from prisons (Wilson, Michael, &amp Darren 6).

Endafter release: in the District of Columbia and in 13 states, likeIndiana and Michigan, disenfranchisement comes to an end after theincarceration period is over (McLeod et al. 66).

Endsafter parole in New York, California, Colorado, and Connecticutdisenfranchisement come to an end after a felon complete hisincarceration and parole terms.

Endsafter probation: there are 20 states that a felon completes his orher probation sentence in addition to the incarceration or paroleterms before he or she can regain the right to vote. Such statesinclude Missouri and Alaska (Smith 220).

Barriersto the restoration of felons’ right to vote

Complexityof processes and laws

Theprocess of restoring the right to vote to felons is not an easy one.This is due to the fact that ex-convicts lack much of a politicallobby and also because of the process must be done state by state.Complexity of processes and laws that surround disenfranchisementfurther act as an obstacle towards the restoration of felons rightsto vote. According to Wilson et al (8) in some states, it is hard todetermine whose rights can or should be restored. This is because theprocess of felons’ right restoration varies from one state to thenext and it depends on the date of the crime, nature of crime, dateof conviction, as well as the date of release from prison. Theprocess further incorporates burdensome documentation coordinationand involvement of various agencies of the state, as well as lengthypaperwork.

Under-fundingof parole boards

Again,the process of restoring felons voting rights is hindered byunder-funding of parole boards in some states, which require offenderto apply to have the rights restored. Zetlin-Jones (411) argue thatmost agencies lack enough resources or staff to process them in atimely and convenient way hence, paving way for the existence of anenormous backlog of applications.

Inadequatecommunication among agencies

Similarly,the inadequate communication among agencies acts as a huge obstacletowards the restoration of felons’ right to vote. Most of methodsthat are applied in communicating the restoration and loss of thevoting rights amongst elections officials, courts, and correctionsare not always consistent, reliable, or timely. As a result, unevenapplication of law may occur even when such law is clear.Additionally, most ex-felons are unaware of the fact that their rightto votes is restored as soon as they are released from prison(Behrens et al 603). They go on with their lives believing that theycannot vote, even when they can. In other circumstance, ex-offendersare rarely offered assistance or informed on how they can have theirvoting rights restored. Indeed, most ex-felons do not begin theprocess of regaining their voting rights since they remain ignorantof the necessary steps.

Recentstates’ actions on the voting rights of felons

28states passed new laws on the voting rights of felons between 1996and 2008 (Burkhardt 357). Seven of these states repealed lifetimedisenfranchisement laws on some ex-offender, twelve simplified theprocess that a felon undergo in order to have his or her votingrights restored by streamlining the lengthy paperwork process or bydoing away with a waiting process, seven improved various proceduresthat were involved in data-sharing among state agencies, two gaveprobationers the right to vote, and nine states passed requirementsthat all ex-offenders be accorded assistance and any necessaryinformation needed in regaining their right to vote upon theirrelease from prison.

In2009, Washington restored felons’ rights to vote were restored toany ex-offender who completed his or her sentences however, suchex-offenders were required to re-register in order to participate inany electoral process (Burkhardt 361). Again, Florida reversed a 2007policy change that restored the right to vote to any non-violentoffender upon completion of his or her sentence, in 2011. This policyrequires ex-offenders to wait for at least five to seven years beforeattempting to apply to regain their voting rights. In the same yearIowa governor reversed an executive order that was issued in the year2005. The reversed order require ex-felons to apply for therestoration of their rights to vote while the 2005 order restoredsuch rights in an automatic manner (Wilson et al. 11).

SouthCarolina, in 2012, mandated that all felons on probation would neverhave their right to vote restored. Before 2012, only incarcerated orfelons on parole were barred from voting. Delaware, in 2013, did awaywith the five-year waiting period before ex-felons’ rights to votewere restored (Wilson et al 13).


Allex-felons should be accorded the right to vote since those who viefor elections has effect on all citizens, regardless of whether theyare felon or not, upon their election into government positions. Inany case, such ex-felons may have been convicted of crimes that theynever committed in some cases, some of them end up in prisons afterbeing set up. Alabama and Nevada are some of the places that haveachieved success in the legislation of felons’ right to vote butmost states have refused to enact laws that enable felons to vote. It is vital that various mechanisms for restoring voting rights beimproved. This is because felons are rarely notified of their rightsto vote when they are released from prison even in states that allowthem to vote. Released prisoners have the right to know whether theirright to vote will be restored during their discharge process.Electoral officials should not be partisan in order to helpex-felons’ right to vote be restored. People must understand andacknowledge that failed social structures force individuals tocommitting felony. Therefore, they have the right to vote on issuesthat affect their daily lives. Rights are not privileges hence, theyshould not be taken away unless they relate to the crime committed.


Behrens,Angela Christopher, Uggen, and Jeff, Manza. &quotBallotManipulation and the “Menace of Negro Domination”: Racial Threatand Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States,1850–20021.&quotAmericanJournal of Sociology.109. 3 (2003): 559–605. Print.

Burkhardt,Brett. &quotIdeology over strategy: Extending voting rights tofelons and ex-felons, 1966–1992.&quotTheSocial Science Journal.48. 2 (2011): 356–363. Print.

Clegg,Roger George, Conway, and Kenneth, Lee. &quotCase Against FelonVoting, The.&quot&nbspU.St. Thomas JL &amp Pub. Pol`y.2. (2008): 1. Print.

Dawson-Edwards,Cherie. &quotEnfranchising convicted felons: Current research onopinions towards felon voting rights.&quot&nbspJournalof Offender Rehabilitation.46. 3-4 (2008): 13–29. Print.

Mcleod,Aman Ismail, White, and Amelia, Gavin. &quotLocked Ballot Box: TheImpact of State Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws on African AmericanVoting Behavior and Implications for Reform, The.&quotVa.J. Soc. Pol`y &amp L.11. (2003): 66. Print.

Shapiro,Andrew. &quotChallenging criminal disenfranchisement under theVoting Rights Act: A new strategy.&quot&nbspYaleLaw Journal.2. (1993): 537–566. Print.

Smith,Barbara. &quotVoting rights for felons: an analysis of felon votingrights restoration laws in Illinois and New York and the factors thataffect an elections official`s willingness or reluctance to implementthe law.&quot 3. (2008): 213-143. Print.

Uggen,Christopher and Jeff, Manza. &quotDemocratic contraction? Politicalconsequences of felon disenfranchisement in the UnitedStates.&quot&nbspAmericanSociological Review.3. (2002): 777–803. Print.

Wilson,David Michael, Leo, and Darren, Davis. &quotRacial Resentment andthe Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons.&quot&nbspAvailableat SSRN 1904089.4. (2011): 3-14. Print.

Zetlin-Jones,David. &quotRight to Remain Silent: What the Voting Rights Act Canand Should Say about Felony Disenfranchisement.&quot&nbspBCLRev.47. (2005): 411. Print.