‘Felony Disenfranchisement’ – this term simply refers to the fact that an individual that has been convicted of a crime would not be allowed to vote, at least for a little while after they are released from jail.
This is mostly for people that commit serious crimes, or felonies. People that commit less serious crimes called ‘misdemeanors’ don’t have to worry about losing their voting.
Why This Practice Started
Much like with anything else in the criminal justice system, the purpose of felony disenfranchisement is to punish people that commit seriously bad crimes.
It’s supposed to stop people from committing crimes because they would not want to give up their part in their country’s democratic process. Does everyone want to be able to have a say in who runs the country, after all, right?
Another reason that felons can’t vote is because people think they don’t deserve to. Most do agree that after a felon has served his time, the government should give him the right to vote. However, people would probably want him to go through some kind of therapy or probation first just to make sure he’s not going to go back to his evil ways once again.
This is a great way to help make sure the democratic process stays as pure as possible.
Exceptions to the Rule – States Where Felons Can Vote
While the practice of felony disenfranchisement is widespread in the United States and is generally considered the norm, there are exceptions as well.
Forty-eight out of the fifty states do not let an inmate vote while they are in jail; Maine and Vermont have no laws that prevent people that have been incarcerated for a felony from taking part in electoral processes.
In addition to this, there are thirteen states where a convict can vote as soon as they are out of jail. These states are Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia also lets convicts vote upon completing their prison sentence.
Various states also let felons vote after they complete probation. This means that after prison, they would just have to wait out their probationary period and once that is done, they can just go to court and ask for their rights to be restored.
Most of the time judges are quite lenient if the felon served his time, did his parole and then did his probation without any kind of trouble or incident.
The States That Stand By the Practice
There are many states that stand hard and fast by the rule that you only get one chance to prove your worth to society, and if you end up missing your chance and commit a felony you are no longer worthy of the right to vote.
One important thing is that states that want to make sure felons can’t vote are right wing most of the time. This means that they mostly vote Republican, and the Republican Party generally doesn’t like the idea of felons voting at all!
They think that felons have already gotten their chance in society and don’t deserve another one.
There have been instances where a few of these states tried to restore a convict’s voting right, either after serving their allotted period of incarceration or after finishing a probationary period of supervision after being set free.
Iowa attempted to do this in 2005 and Florida in 2007, but in both instances, the laws were repealed by the governors that succeeded the ones that campaigned against felony disenfranchisement.
In the case of Iowa, convicts were able to enjoy six years of no longer having to deal with felony disenfranchisement until a new governor in 2011 stripped them of this right, reverting back to the old rule of them not being able to vote.
This was a sudden move and left many people in precarious political positions.
The Process of Enfranchisement for Felons
The answer to this question depends largely on what state the felon is convicted in. State laws apply here far more than federal laws, except in cases of terrorism or other extreme crimes in which federal authorities are given absolute and unquestionable jurisdiction.
In most cases, a convict will have to complete their sentence, be released or paroled, go through a probationary period in which their activities and behavior will be monitored and upon the end of this period, they will be evaluated.
If the results of this evaluation are positive, which means that the convict is fully reformed, then there is a chance that voting rights could be restored. This means that the past is past and the felon is no more a felon than you or me.
It is a pretty hard thing to do no matter what, convicts are generally not thought of very fondly in the public eye.
There are exceptions on both sides of the fence, of course. Many people consider felony disenfranchisement to be a violation of rights, as that is going against the idea that every citizen of a country should get a say in the political process of their country.
Hence, many states have lax laws about convict voting, and many allow voting in jail while several others allow felons to vote as soon as they are out of jail because they consider incarceration to be all about reformation anyway.