The United States is one of the world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. A remarkable 5.85 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes. In this election year, the question of voting restrictions is once again receiving great public attention.
This report is intended to update and expand our previous work on the scope and distribution of felony disenfranchisement in the United States (see Uggen and Manza 2002; Manza and Uggen 2006). The numbers presented here represent our best assessment of the state of felon disenfranchisement as of December 31, 2010, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Our goal is to provide statistics that will help contextualize and anticipate the potential effects of felon disenfranchisement on elections in November 2012.
Our key findings include the following:
- Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
- Ex-felons in the eleven states that disenfranchise people after they have completed their sentences make up about 45 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling over 2.6 million people.
- The number of people disenfranchised due to a felony conviction has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and over 5.85 million in 2010.
- Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
- 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans. Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised, compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
- African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.
To read the report, download the PDF below.
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