Issue Guide
Ending Felony Disenfranchisement

Sample Questions

  • I think we can agree that voting is a really important societal right. Every citizen should have the right to vote — everyone has a stake in their own future and their families’ future, even if they have made serious mistakes in the past. Tell me, would you support the ability of people in prison to vote while still serving time?
  • I believe that no citizen of the United States should lose their right to vote. In Maine, Vermont, and Puerto Rico, voting is such a basic civil right that people do not lose it even if they are sentenced to prison. Do you think the rest of the country should follow Maine and Vermont’s example?

ACLU Position

Citizens should not be deprived of the right to vote because of a conviction, whether or not they are incarcerated. Incarcerated individuals should be authorized to vote at their last place of residence prior to confinement.

Background

At the founding of our nation, women, African-Americans, those who were unable to read or write, poor people, and individuals with felony convictions were excluded from the ballot box. Over the course of our nation’s history, the right to vote has been expanded to include African-Americans and women. Additionally, poll taxes and literacy tests have been banned. But restrictions remain. Over 5 million people are unable to vote because they are incarcerated, completing probation or parole, or are precluded from voting for having a felony conviction in their past.

Why the ACLU Supports Ending Felony Disenfranchisement

  • Voting is a fundamental right and the cornerstone of our democracy. Denying the right to vote to an entire class of citizens undermines our democracy and makes our society less inclusive. The right to vote preserves all other rights and should never be taken away from citizens as punishment.
  • People of color are disproportionately impacted by felony disenfranchisement. Many of these laws were passed during the Jim Crow-era with the intent to bar minorities from voting. Disproportionate numbers of people of color continue to be prosecuted, incarcerated, and disenfranchised due to these laws. As of 2016, 1 in 56 non-Black voters lost their right to vote. Conversely, 1 in 13 Black voters lost their right to vote.
  • Studies have shown that when individuals with convictions participate in democracy, they have much lower rates of subsequent arrests. The vast majority of incarcerated people will one day return to the community. By denying them even the basic right to vote, we are only preventing them from having a stronger stake in their community and making it harder for them to successfully return to society.
  • The right to vote from prison is a mainstream policy used in many countries. While the policy is only in place in two states — Maine and Vermont —and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the concept of voting while incarcerated is quite common internationally. Canada, Ireland, Israel, South Africa, and many other countries do not place restrictions on the voting process for incarcerated people.
  • Not allowing people to vote while incarcerated only worsens the problem of prison gerrymandering. For purposes of the census, incarcerated individuals are generally counted where they are incarcerated, not where they consider their home. This impacts congressional apportionment as well as redistricting at all levels of government. Additionally, it shifts political power to geographies where prisons are located.