It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote, in some cases permanently. Over the last few decades, the general trend has been toward reinstating the right to vote at some point, although this is a state-by-state policy choice. (See Recent State Action below for a chronology.)
Currently, state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. NCSL has divided states into four categories, as detailed in Table 1 below.
In all cases, "automatic restoration" does not mean that voter registration is automatic. Typically prison officials automatically inform election officials that an individual's rights have been restored. The person is then responsible for re-registering through normal processes. Some states, California is one example, require that voter registration information be provided to formerly incarcerated people.
Table One: Restoration of Voting Rights After Felony Convictions
|Never Lose Right to Vote||Lost Only While Incarcerated | Automatic Restoration After Release||Lost Until Completion of Sentence (Parole and/or Probation) | Automatic Restoration After||Lost Until Completion of Sentence | In Some States a Post-Sentencing Waiting Period | Additional Action Required for Restoration (1)|
|Vermont||District of Columbia||Arkansas||Arizona|
|New Hampshire||New York (5)|
|North Dakota||North Carolina|
(1) Details on the process for restoration of rights is included in Table 2 below.
(2) In 2016, California passed legislation allowing those in county jails to vote while incarcerated, but not those in state or federal prison.
(3) In Maryland, convictions for buying or selling votes can only be restored through pardon.
(4) An initiated constitutional amendment in 2018 restored the right to vote for those with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, who must still petition the governor for restoration of voting rights on a case by case basis. In July 2019, SB 7066 was signed by the governor of Florida which defined “completion of sentence” to include: release from imprisonment, termination of any ordered probation, fulfillment of any terms ordered by the courts, termination of any ordered supervision, full payment of any ordered restitution and the full payment of any ordered fines, fees or costs.
(5) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order removing the restriction on parolees voting. New York already allows those on probation to vote. The order may be challenged in court.
Table Two: Details on Policies for Restoration of Rights
|State||Details on Policies for Restoration of Rights|
|Alabama||The Alabama Constitution states that "No person convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude, or who is mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil and political rights or removal of disability" (Ala. Const. Art. VIII, § 177). Before 2017 there was no comprehensive list of felonies that involve moral turpitude which would disqualify a person from voting. In 2017, HB 282 defined which crimes fit this category (Ala. Code § 17-3-30.1).|
|Arizona||A conviction for a felony suspends the rights of the person to vote (A.R.S. § 13-904) unless they have been restored to civil rights (Ariz. Const. Art. 7 § 2). First-time offenders have rights restored upon completion of probation and payment of any fine or restitution (A.R.S. § 13-912). A person who has been convicted of two or more felonies may have civil rights restored by the judge who discharges him at the end of the term of probation or by applying to the court for restoration of rights (A.R.S. § 13-905).|
|Delaware||People who are convicted of disqualifying felonies (murder, bribery, sexual offenses) are permanently disenfranchised. Those disqualified as a voter because of another type of felony shall have the disqualification removed upon being pardoned or after the expiration of the sentence, whichever comes first (Del. Const., Art. 5, § 2). In 2013 (HB 10) Delaware removed its five-year waiting period, allowing those convicted of non-disqualifying offenses to vote upon completion of sentence and supervision.|
|Florida||Felons must have completed all terms of sentence, which includes probation and parole, and must pay any oustanding fines or fees before they can get their voting rights restored (Flor. Stat. §98.0751).|
|Iowa||A person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector (Iowa Const. Art. 2, § 5). In 2016 the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ban on felon voting, finding that all felonies are “infamous crimes” resulting in permanent disenfranchisement (Griffin v. Pate, 2016). The ability of the governor to restore voting rights to persons convicted of infamous crimes through pardoning power was upheld in State v. Richardson, 2017. In 2005 Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to individuals with former felony convictions via executive order. Governor Terry Branstad reversed this executive order in 2011.|
|Kentucky||“Persons convicted of treason, or felony, or bribery in an election, or of such high misdemeanor as the General Assembly may declare shall operate as an exclusion from the right of suffrage, but persons hereby excluded may be restored to their civil rights by executive pardon” (KY Const. § 145). Governor Steve Beshear restored voting rights to individuals with former non-violent felony convictions via executive order in 2015. Governor Matt Bevin reversed this executive order shortly after taking office in 2015. The Department of Corrections is required to promulgate administrative regulations for restoration of civil rights to eligible felony offenders (KRS §196.045).|
|Mississippi||“A person convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy is no longer considered a qualified elector” (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 241). If an individual hasn’t committed one of these offenses, rights are automatically restored. If an individual has been convicted of one of these, he or she can still receive a pardon from the governor to restore voting rights (Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-41) or by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 253).|
|Nebraska||In felony cases, there is a two-year waiting period after completion of probation for the restoration of voting rights (Neb. Rev. St. § 29-2264).|
|Tennessee||The Tennessee Constitution denies the right to vote persons convicted of an infamous crime (Tenn. Const. Art. 1, § 5). Any felony is considered an “infamous crime” and disqualifies a person from exercising the right of suffrage (T.C.A. § 40-20-112). Those convicted of infamous crimes may petition for restoration upon completion of the sentence or be pardoned by the governor (T.C.A. § 40-29-101, § 2-19-143). Proof of restoration is needed in order to register to vote (T.C.A. § 2-2-139).|
|Virginia||No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority (VA Const. Art. 2, § 1). The Department of Corrections is required to provide persons convicted of felonies with information regarding voting rights restoration, and assist with the process established by the governor for the review of applications (VA Code Ann. § 53.1-231.1 et seq.). Individuals with felony convictions may petition the courts in an attempt to restore their voting rights (VA Code Ann. § 53.1-231.2). In 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their prison sentence and their term of supervised release (parole or probation) as of April 22, 2016. The Virginia Supreme Court subsequently ruled that rights restoration needs to take place on an individual basis, rather than en masse.|
|Wyoming||A person convicted of a felony is not a qualified elector unless his rights are restored (W.S. § 6-10-106). For persons convicted of nonviolent felonies or a first-time offender, rights are restored automatically (W.S. § 7-13-105). Persons who do not meet the above qualifications must be pardoned (W.S. § 6-10-106).