Almost all states place restrictions on the voting rights of individuals convicted of felonies. But, in many states, individuals with felony convictions can restore their right to vote. You might be surprised to learn that in more than 20 states a person with a felony conviction can vote after leaving prison, even if the person is still under parole or release supervision.
This article highlights the various state practices when it comes to felon voting restrictions and restoring the right to vote. At the end of the article, you'll find links to resources and organizations that provide either assistance or information on voting rights and restoring the right to vote.
Voting rights for felons hinge on the state law where the person lives and where the person was convicted.
Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia (D.C.) are the only three jurisdictions where people with felony convictions never lose the right to vote, even while incarcerated. Incarcerated individuals can vote by absentee ballot. (Click on the state link to learn more.)
Twenty-three states restore felon voting rights upon release from incarceration. Those states are California*, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland*, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. In general, incarceration includes time spent in jail or prison.
*California allows persons convicted of a felony serving time in county jail to vote, just not those felons serving time in state or federal prison. (Cal. Elec. Code § 2101 (2022).)
*A person who's convicted of buying or selling votes in Maryland loses their right to vote permanently. (Md. Code, Elec. Law § 3-102 (2022).)
In 14 states, felons regain the right to vote (for the most part) after completing their sentence. A person's sentence generally includes time incarcerated and time on probation or parole. But the definition varies by state. In some states, "completion of sentence" also includes payment of all outstanding court fines and fees and restitution orders (such as Florida).
These states include Alaska, Arkansas, Florida*, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri*, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
*In Florida, a person convicted of murder or a felony sex offense loses their right to vote permanently. (Fla. Stat. § 98.0751 (2022).)
*Missouri permanently bars those with election convictions from voting. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.133 (2022).)
Around 10 states restrict the voting rights of felons for a time or permanently after the person completes all of their sentencing terms. The terms of these laws vary significantly. Louisiana, for example, restores voting rights for most individuals on probation or parole once five years pass without being incarcerated. Some states require the person to wait a set amount of time. For instance, Nebraska restores a person's right to vote two years after completing a felony sentence.
Other states require a person to apply for and receive some type of governmental approval (such as a pardon or court order) before restoring their civil rights. In a few states, individuals with convictions for violent felonies lose their right to vote permanently.
States that fall under this category include Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.
State laws also vary when it comes to how rights are restored and whether restoration of rights is automatic or conditioned on additional factors. (Just don't forget: In either case, the person still needs to register to vote.)
Automatic restoration. In some states, restoration of rights occurs automatically upon being released from incarceration or completing the sentencing terms. Once the person is no longer restricted from voting, the person's rights are restored and no additional action (other than registering to vote) needs to happen.
Conditional restoration. Other states make the restoration of rights conditional on the person taking or completing an additional step after release or completion of their sentence. Alabama, for instance, requires persons convicted of certain felonies to complete their sentence and then apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote. In other states, a person might have to seek a court order, a pardon, or a certificate from another authority (such as the Board of Parole) to restore their civil rights after they've completed their sentence. And, as with automatic restoration, the person also needs to register to vote.
In some states, the department of corrections informs ex-inmates that their right to vote can be restored and what steps a person must take. But it's generally up to the individual to find out if they are eligible to vote, based on their criminal history and the laws of the state (or states) in which they were convicted and currently reside.
It depends. Many individuals held in jails are awaiting trial (pretrial detainees) or sentenced for misdemeanors. Those individuals who don't have felony convictions might be eligible to vote. In a few states, like Maine and Vermont, inmates can vote in jail even with a felony conviction. Some jails and outside organizations actively work to make voting in jails possible. In other areas, a person might need to do the legwork (like applying for an absentee ballot) on their own. Check out the resources below to learn more.
Several organizations provide information on restoring the right to vote. One website—RestoreYourVote.org—provides a series of questions to determine a person's eligibility to vote and provides links to state-specific resources. Another good resource is your state's election office, which is usually a part of the secretary of state's office. This website provides links and phone numbers for each state's election office.
In some states, determining eligibility to vote can be as simple as whether or not a person is incarcerated. But, in other states, you might want the following information on hand:
If you have questions about the law or if you believe an election official isn't correctly following the law, contact an attorney or reach out to an advocacy organization for assistance.