Thursday, July 3


Mark Segraves, WTOP, DC More than 500,000 Americans of voting age cannot vote because of a felony conviction, according to the most recent data from he Bureau of Justice Statistics and a 2004 report published in the The Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Nearly half of them are African American.

When it comes to restoring a felon's right to vote, the most liberal states are Vermont and Maine, where felons don't lose their voting privileges and can even vote in jail. The two most restrictive states are Virginia and Kentucky. In those states, convicted felons can only have their voting rights restored by the governor. . .

Advocates for reforming what they call "felony disenfranchisement" say the process for restoring voting rights is too cumbersome, and point to jurisdictions like Maryland and the District of Columbia as best practices. In Maryland, a felon's voting rights are restored automatically once they complete their prison sentence and probation or parole. In the District, felons can vote as soon as they are released from prison -- even if they are still on probation.

Those same advocates point to a study by sociologists Chris Uggen and Jeff Manza, which shows felons who vote are 50 percent less likely to be re-arrested. . .

In 2006, Rhode Island became the first state to reform voting rights for felons by a voter referendum. Question 2 passed with more than 52 percent of the vote, allowing formerly incarcerated persons on parole or probation to vote. That put 15,000 people back in the voting booths. In the past 10 years, 16 states have passed new laws making it easier for former inmates to vote.

On the flip side, only Utah and Massachusetts have moved in the other direction. In 1998, 80 percent of the Utah electorate voted in favor of restricting an inmates right to vote. In 2000, Massachusetts voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, approved taking away the right of incarcerated felons to vote in state elections.