Voting rights restoration for people with felony convictions gains momentum in several states—and loses momentum in others.
An important part of reentry is regaining and exercising the right to vote. Several states took steps in 2017 to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated and convicted people.
- Alabama: In May 2017, Governor Kay Ivey signed a law restoring voting rights to thousands of people convicted of felonies. The legislation more explicitly and narrowly defines the state constitution’s disenfranchisement for crimes of “moral turpitude,” which had been used in different ways by the state’s 67 counties to restrict voting rights for more than a century, with a disproportionate impact on black people. Approximately 250,000 people in the state had been disenfranchised because of their criminal records.
- Florida: Voters in Florida may have a chance to end permanent disenfranchisement for people with felony convictions. A ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals who have finished their prison sentences, parole, and probation has survived a court challenge and, as of January 1, 2018, organizers estimated that it had enough signatures to land on the 2018 ballot. From there, it will need the support of 60 percent of voters to pass. The change could potentially allow eligibility to approximately 1 million voters. Those convicted of murder and felony sexual offenses would be excluded.
- Virginia: Then-Governor Terry McAuliffe finished his successful bid to break former Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s record for re-enfranchisement by individually restoring voting rights to 156,221 people who had completed the terms of their sentences, after the state supreme court invalidated a 2016 executive order that had en masse restored voting rights to more than 200,000 people.
- Not all state enfranchisement news was positive. In Mississippi, a bill to study potential changes to the state’s disenfranchisement laws passed its House of Representatives 120–0, but died when the Senate elections committee chair refused to take it up. A February 2017 report by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found that, due to the state’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions, more than 300,000 residents are disenfranchised, an increase of 68 percent since 2006—including more than a quarter of its black population, the highest such rate in the nation.