An estimated 6.1 million American adults were not allowed to vote in the 2016 election because they had a felony conviction on their record. Most had already served their sentences and returned to their communities. The majority of US states take away felons’ voting rights, occasionally for life. This disenfranchisement affects an estimated one in 40 adult Americans, or 2.5% of the total US voting-age population, according to The Sentencing Project, a group that advocates criminal-justice reform. That number is greater than the entire population of Missouri, and it’s the largest single group of American citizens who are barred by law from participating in elections.
So many people are barred from the polls that some worry their absence could change election results. One study even suggested that allowing felons to vote in Florida could have tipped the 2000 presidential election to Democrat Al Gore.
About half of US states have loosened restrictions in recent years. But how this might affect the country’s fractured politics is more complicated. Would ex-felons turn out to vote? And if they would, can we predict who’d benefit?