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Can Convicted Felons Vote?

Posted on by Ben Hartwig in CrimeNovember 20, 2018

In today’s age, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has never had a run-in with the law before, and you may even know someone who is a convicted felon. Felons have been convicted of crimes that are classified as felony sentences instead of misdemeanors. Felony crimes can include drunk driving for repeat offenders, murder, assault, theft, and even robbery. These classifications of how serious crime often just depends on the jurisdiction they occurred in and whether the person had a prior criminal record. So, the question remains, can felons vote? Read on to find out.

What Are Criminal Records?

Criminal records are a collection of all the arrests, criminal charges, court proceedings, convictions, and even the current disposition of any open cases against a person. These can include nationwide inmate records from local county jails or state prisons, federal penitentiaries, various department of corrections offices, and even juvenile detention. Some details are protected from public view, especially those concerning minors, as well as anything that the local government has determined should be held private.

Having a criminal record means you have an arrest or conviction in your searchable history, even if it is a first-time offense. However, because someone has been arrested doesn’t mean they were ever convicted. Many employers will ask about your criminal past and whether you have one and may even request a release for a formal background check. The best policy is to maintain honesty about these questions, as many won’t refuse to hire due to a criminal past, except in cases of certain crimes.

The Sentencing Project is a non-profit organization working for a fair and equitable justice system. They believe that criminals should be given rights and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Unfortunately, many state legislators disagree and impose the harshest sentencing on criminals in the state.

can felons vote

Basic Rights Prevented by a Criminal Record

Being a convicted felon means you’ll lose some of your basic civil rights guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution. However, voting rights can vary by state, and some of them are only imposed for a certain amount of time.

1. Voting

Voting is one right that felons lose at least as long as they are serving their prison sentence. However, after completion of their sentence, the felon may typically resume voting in elections, such as individuals with West Virginia inmate records, New York, Oklahoma, and other states. Voter registration offices may use someone’s contact information to check to see if they have a criminal record before allowing them to register. Each person must sign in on election day, and they cannot vote if they haven’t registered.

Felony disenfranchisement laws were enacted to remove the voting rights of anyone who commits a felony. However, groups like The Sentencing Project believe that people who have committed a non-violent felony should not lose their right to vote. This group works with election officials to enact laws that further their cause.

2. Traveling abroad

Much like voting rights, traveling out of the country is prohibited while serving a prison or community supervision sentence (probation). After the probationary period is over, travel may resume. However, some countries have access to U.S. criminal background histories and can require a background check before allowing a convicted felon into their country. Although state laws differ, anyone under supervised release cannot travel abroad.

3. Gun Rights

Depending on the state, restoring your gun rights may be easier in some places than others. To reinstate a felon’s gun rights, it may be necessary to apply for a felony expungement, a governor’s pardon, a federal pardon (Executive order), or even petition the state to restore your firearm rights. The Supreme Court could even turn over the conviction releasing the criminal from a record. Along with gun rights, the criminal may also enjoy the restoration of voting rights.

4. Employment Rights

Federal employers must not hold a prior felony conviction against an applicant unless the crime relates to the job duties they would be performing. State employers, conversely, can consider the criminal history in determining whether to hire a person. Most private employers will conduct a background check and choose not to hire convicted felons. Private businesses are allowed to discriminate against felons when hiring new employees. Someone with a felony sexual offense or suspect moral turpitude may not be able to get a job in government offices.

5. Public Social Benefits and Housing

Convicted felons aren’t typically able to apply for federal or state aid in the form of grants, public housing, cash assistance, food stamps, and social security benefits.

6. Parental Benefits

Felons run the risk of losing their parental rights if they are the only custodial parent in a child’s life and their conviction results in the child being placed into state or foster care. Felony convictions in your past can also lead to loss of custody in the event of a future dispute or divorce in court.

State-Specific Felon Voting Laws

In both Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote – and may do so even while incarcerated. In some states, ex-cons get automatic restoration of their rights after a specific time period. Some states may wait two years, and others five years. Someone convicted of voter fraud may never get their rights restored.

Can convicted felons vote in other states?

The following states allow felons to vote after release from prison:

  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah

These states allow felons to vote after they complete their sentences, including parole or probation time:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Finally, these states will only restore a felon’s voting rights after a certain waiting period has passed after completing their sentence or require further action from the felon. This may include contacting the courts, the secretary of state, or consulting a government office website (.gov) for help.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
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