If a person is convicted of first-degree murder in the state of Vermont, he or she will retain the right to vote — even while incarcerated. But a person who commits perjury in Mississippi could be permanently barred from casting a ballot there. It is up to states — not the federal government — to say whether convicted felons can vote, and which ones, and when. So the rules for convicted criminals can change, sometimes drastically, from one state to the next. (The issue can be knotty within states, too: This past week, New York’s governor announced plans to sidestep a resistant State Legislature to give the vote to felons on parole.) It’s a lot to keep track of, but here’s an overview of where states stand — at least for now — on felons’ voting rights.
The exact number of convicted felons in the country is hard to pin down. One study, led by Sarah K.S. Shannon, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Georgia, estimated that about 8 percent of American adults had a felony record in 2010.
Dr. Shannon also worked with the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform, on a 2016 reportestimating that 6.1 million Americans had been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws. Experts say that disparities in sentencing can make felony voting laws inherently discriminatory against minorities and people with low incomes.
“In terms of inequality, clearly, felony disenfranchisement laws have racially disproportionate effects. Our estimates lay that bare,” Dr. Shannon said. “In addition, because these laws can vary so widely by state, the effects are also spatially disparate, impacting some states’ electorates more than others.”