Loss and restoration of voting and firearms rights after conviction: A national survey

*Update (9/8/20): the full national report, “The Many Roads to Reintegration,” is now available.

Earlier today we announced the forthcoming publication of a national report on mechanisms for restoring rights and opportunities following arrest or conviction, titled “The Many Roads to Reintegration.”  As promised, here is the first chapter of that report on loss and restoration of voting and firearms rights, a subject that needs little or no introduction.  The research, drawn from the Restoration of Rights Project, reveals a trend since 2015 toward expanding opportunities to regain the vote that has accelerated just in the past two years.

This trend seems particularly timely in light of the pending constitutional challenge to Florida’s restoration system, which raises the question whether the state may constitutionally require people to pay outstanding legal financial obligations (LFOs) before being allowed to vote, even if they cannot afford to do so.  There are now only two states in addition to Florida in which the vote is permanently lost for those unable to pay all LFOs associated with a disqualifying conviction.  An additional seven states permanently deny the vote for those unable to pay certain types of LFOs.  (Early next week, we will publish a report surveying state laws and practices on this issue, which will be included in abbreviated form in an amicus brief we plan to file in the court of appeals in support of the Florida plaintiffs.)

In contrast to voting rights law, there has been almost no change in the past half dozen years in how state and federal law treats firearms restoration after conviction.  In most states, firearms dispossession remains indefinite for anyone convicted of a felony, and restoration depends upon petitioning a court for discretionary relief or asking for a pardon. In 11 of the 26 states in which all firearms rights are permanently lost upon conviction of any felony, and for those with a federal conviction, a pardon is the exclusive restoration mechanism.

A PDF of this chapter is available here.  Coming next week, the report’s chapter on “Employment and Occupational Licensing.”

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