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Do Convicted Felons Have Voting Rights? That Depends Where You Live

Recently, at a forum I gave on the impact of having a criminal background, I was asked if convicted felons have voting rights in Illinois. I gave an answer that I later learned was only partially correct.

States Decide When Convicted Felons have Voting Rights

Most people assume — incorrectly — that once convicted of a felony  you lose your voting rights for good. The answer to this question varies from one state to the next. In Maine and Vermont, a convicted felon never loses their voting rights.

Prison Terms Lead to Loss of Voting Rights

In Illinois, as in most other states, once someone is convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, s/he loses their voting rights during their incarceration. Once released, however, when or if someone’s voting rights are restored depends on where you live.

Among states that permanently bar convicted felons from voting, only three states (Iowa, Florida, Kentucky) apply this bar to all felons, while the remaining eight states (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Wyoming) apply this bar to those convicted of more than one felony offense and/or convicted of certain crimes (e.g., murder, rape, treason). That said, these states give individuals the opportunity to petition the governor to restore their voting rights.

Where Voting Rights Are Restored

In Illinois, voting rights are automatically restored after someone is released from prison.  Moreover, if you are only sentenced to probation or conditional discharge (not unusual for a low-level felony offense or first-time felony offender) you never lose your voting rights.

Other states that share Illinois’ policy include: Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts (with a few exceptions), Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and D.C.

The remaining 23 states do not restore voting rights upon an individual’s release from prison. Rather, the majority of these states (19) require that individuals be discharged from parole and/or probation.  In these states, being convicted of felony, alone, will lead to loss of one’s voting rights. You do not have to go to prison.

The remaining four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, and New York) only require that someone be discharged from parole.  Like Illinois, these states do not bar someone from voting if s/he is sentenced to probation.

Convicted Felons, All Registered Voters:
Exercise Your Voting Rights

As you know, this is a presidential election year. Many people, it would seem, have gotten out of the habit of voting. People often don’t vote because they don’t see how their vote will affect their daily lives.

In 2014, roughly two-thirds of registered voters did not cast a vote in the Illinois governor’s race.  Today, Illinois citizens now watch the state slowly collapsing in the absence of a budget. Many fault the stubborn intransigence of a private-sector businessman turned Governor for the state’s current woes.

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Independent, if you want your voice to be heard, vote. Elections do matter.

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