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October 12, 2010 (The Sentencing Project)

The Sentencing Project Releases New Report: Nearly Half of all U.S. States Enacted Reforms to Felony Disenfranchisement Laws Since 1997

We are pleased to let you know of our new publication that shows that thousands of new voters can head to the polls next month due to changes to state laws that limit voting access for people convicted of felony offenses. Since 1997, 800,000 persons have regained the right to vote as a result of felony disenfranchisement reform in 23 states, according to Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform 1997-2010.

The report has found that:

  • Nine states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws;
  • Three states expanded voting rights to persons under community supervision (probation and parole);
  • Eight states eased the restoration process for persons seeking to have their right to vote restored after completing sentence; and
  • Three states improved data and information sharing.

State legislation and/or litigation efforts have impacted state disenfranchisement policies by way of amending current laws, easing restoration policies, and lifting bans on probationers or parolees.

Reforms highlighted in the report include:

  • Rhode Island's repeal of a state prohibition on voting for persons on probation and parole resulted in the restoration of voting rights to more than 15,000 individuals;
  • Maryland's repeal of its lifetime prohibition on voting for persons who have completed their sentence resulted in the restoration of voting rights for more than 52,000 persons;
  • Connecticut's repeal of its ban on voting for persons on probation extended the right to vote to more than 33,000 citizens; and
  • New Mexico's repeal of its lifetime disenfranchisement provision restored the right to vote to more than 69,000 individuals.

Our report comes on the heels of last week's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a three-judge decision that had struck down Washington State’s disenfranchisement law on the grounds that it produced disproportionate racial effects. The initial ruling would have applied to all persons serving felony sentences, including those in prison.  The decision concludes that under the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs were required to demonstrate intentional discrimination in the law, and not just disparate impact.

In addition to our report, we have compiled stories of three citizens impacted by various states disenfranchising laws. Please read excerpts of  these stories. You may also click here to learn more about the Democracy Restoration Act, legislation that we are working on that would permit voting by any non-incarcerated person in federal elections.

read report

read personal stories of impacted people

read the sentencing project's democracy restoration act briefing sheet

read 9th Circuit court of appeals decision

Issue Area(s): Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences