Momentum grows to restore voting rights to people with a felony
Our new report on 2020 legislative reforms shows continued progress in state efforts to expand voting rights for people with a felony conviction. Despite a courtroom setback at the Eleventh Circuit, where a federal appeals court ruled that Florida’s landmark 2018 felony re-enfranchisement initiative does not restore the vote to people who owe court debt, two additional states and D.C. took major actions to restore voting rights to people convicted of a felony. Already in 2021, an impressive 19 states are considering bills to ease or eliminate prohibitions on voting based on a past conviction.
In 2020, California restored the vote to people on parole, via a ballot initiative amending the state constitution. Iowa‘s governor issued an executive order restoring voting rights to people convicted of most felonies after completion of incarceration and supervision. And the District of Columbia repealed felony disenfranchisement altogether so that even people in prison may vote. Since 2016, 19 states have taken steps to restore the right to vote for people with a felony and expand awareness about eligibility.
In 2021, at least 19 state legislatures are considering bills that would expand the franchise to those with a conviction:
- 5 states are considering measures to amend their constitutions or statutes to eliminate felony disenfranchisement entirely (Nebraska, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia). They would join Maine, Vermont, and D.C., as jurisdictions that have fully abandoned felony disenfranchisement. Connecticut also has a proposed bill that to eliminate disenfranchisement for certain felony offenses and restore the vote after incarceration for the others.
- 10 states are considering bills to re-enfranchise individuals not presently incarcerated for a felony conviction: Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, Texas, and Virginia (Alabama’s bill would do so 5 years after release). The Washington measure is sponsored by newly elected Rep. Tarra Simmons, believed to be the first Washington state lawmaker formerly convicted of felony.
- The only 4 states remaining without a statutory mechanism for re-enfranchisement (Kentucky, Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia) are considering measures to restore the vote upon completion of incarceration and supervision, or earlier, for a disqualifying offense (in the case of Mississippi, after incarceration and parole only; in the case of Iowa, 5 years after completion of incarceration and supervision; Virginia has proposals to eliminate disenfranchisement completely or restore the vote upon release). These four states currently make re-enfranchisement wholly dependent upon discretionary gubernatorial action (or in Mississippi, discretionary legislative action).
- In addition, Tennessee has a pending bill that would remove requirements that a person has paid all restitution and court costs, and be current on child support, before voting rights may be restored. Maryland and Missouri are considering bills to facilitate voting in jails for eligible individuals, and Maryland has another bill to require individuals released from correctional facilities and/or on community supervision to be informed that they are eligible to vote. Nebraska also has a pending bill to remove the two-year waiting period after completion of a felony sentence for voting rights restoration.
Our full report on 2020 criminal record reforms is available here. For an overview of loss and restoration of voting rights, see our Sept. 2020 national survey and our 50-state comparison chart. In addition, our Nov. 2020 report documents which states treat unpaid court debt as a barrier to regaining the vote.
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