Felony disenfranchisement in the United States
Felony disenfranchisement in the United States is the suspension or withdrawal of voting rights due to the conviction of a criminal offense. The actual class of crimes that results in disenfranchisement vary between jurisdictions, but most commonly classed as felonies, or may be based on a certain period of incarceration or other penalty. In some jurisdictions disfranchisement is permanent, while in others suffrage is restored after a person has served a sentence, or completed parole or probation. Felony disenfranchisement is one among the collateral consequences of criminal conviction and the loss of rights due to conviction for criminal offense. In 2016, 6.1 million individuals were disenfranchised on account of a conviction, 2.47% of voting-age citizens. As of October 2020, it was estimated that 5.1 million voting-age US citizens were disenfranchised for the 2020 presidential election on account of a felony conviction, 1 in 44 citizens. As suffrage rights are generally bestowed by state law, state felony disenfranchisement laws also apply to elections to federal offices.
Proponents have argued that persons who commit felonies have broken the social contract, and have thereby given up their right to participate in a civil society. Some argue that felons have shown poor judgment, and that they should therefore not have a voice in the political decision-making process. Opponents have argued that such disfranchisement restricts and conflicts with principles of universal suffrage. It can affect civic and communal participation in general. Opponents argue that felony disenfranchisement can create political incentives to skew criminal law in favor of disproportionately targeting groups who are political opponents of those who hold power.
Many states adopted felon voting bans in the 1860s and 1870s, at the same time that voting rights for black citizens were being considered and contested. Scholars have linked the origins and intents of many state felon voting bans to racial discrimination. In some states, legislators have been accused of specifically tailoring felon voting bans to purposely and disproportionately target African Americans, for example, by targeting minor crimes more common among these citizens while allowing felons who committed more serious crimes (such as murder) to vote.