Can You Vote If You're A Felon? Some States Have Harsher Laws Than Others

With the 2016 presidential elections fast approaching, it's worth untangling the intricacies of the democratic process so you're clear on what your rights are. One key question that many citizens may be unsure about is whether or not you can vote as a felon. The reason for mass confusion on this issue is that, sadly, there's no one simple answer. Voting rights are often dictated by what state a felon resides in. If a felon is still serving his or her sentence, they can still vote — if they're based in one of two states, Maine or Vermont. In these states, convicted felons can vote via absentee ballot while in prison. But these states are the exception to the rule.

Other states are far more hostile in their attitude to voting rights for felons. In Florida, Iowa, and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote unless they petition or appeal to the government — which is not an entirely hopeless cause, as Virginia's governor returned the right to vote to "nearly 13,000 ex-felons" as recently as August 2016. But, obviously, the examples above represent the more extreme ends of the spectrum. Most states lie somewhere between these two points.

States That Restore The Felon's Vote After Their Sentence, Including Prison, Parole, & Probation

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The majority of states in America fall on the harsher end of the spectrum with regards to how they handle felons' voting rights. Some states restore a felon's vote only after they have completed their term of incarceration (parole and/or probation). These states include Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

However, there is some fine print. In Nebraska, once two years have passed since completing your sentence, you're able to vote unless you were convicted for treason. If you reside in Washington, even after completing your sentence, parole, and probation, you will need to re-register as a voter. However, those who have "willfully failed to make three payments in a 12 month period" on court-imposed fines may have their vote revoked by the prosecutor.

States That Restore The Felon's Vote After Their Term Of Incarceration & Discharge From Parole

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Four states fall under this category: California, Colorado, Connecticut and New York. For felons housed within county rather than state jails, there's a happy exception: felons can vote from within jail.

States That Restore The Felon's Vote After Their Release From Prison

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The locations that fall under this category: District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah.

In short, voting rights as a felon are mostly dictated by the state the felon resides in, and potentially the amount of time that has elapsed since they have served their sentence as well as the type of crime they've committed. It's complicated, but it can be done, so be sure to check what your state's exact laws and guidelines on enfranchisement are well before Election Day.