Felon Voting Rights: An Explanation

Author: PeopleFinders on May 19th, 2020
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Felon voting rights have been a hot-button topic in recent months, with plenty of opinions on either side of the fence. That wealth of opinion is incredibly obvious when you look at the various felon voting laws across the United States. States range from being very lenient with felons to incredibly strict, and everywhere in-between.

Here’s the rundown on how felon voting laws work, and why you might want to pay attention to them.

Who Decides If a Felon Can Vote?

There are no federal laws governing felon voting rights. Rather, these rights are established by individual states. This means that someone convicted of the exact same crime may have different voting rights depending on the state of conviction.

There are three general categories of felon voting rights into which states fall. Two states–Maine and Vermont–never revoke the voting rights of felons, regardless of the felony. They even allow them to vote within prison.

Two more states–Iowa and Kentucky–only allow voting rights to be restored via an individual petition passed by the state government; they never automatically restore them.

The other 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia, fall somewhere in the middle. These states generally restore voting rights upon release from prison, discharge from parole, or completion of probation.

Do All Felons Have the Same Voting Rights?

Not only do states have different voting laws for felons, some states also differentiate between serious felonies and less serious felonies. Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming all have distinct provisions in their laws for those convicted of certain types of felonies.

However, while most of these distinctions are between “violent” and “nonviolent” felonies, such as murder versus embezzlement, some distinctions are more arbitrary. For example, in Mississippi, being convicted of a felony for writing a bad check automatically bars an individual from ever voting again unless his or her rights are restored by the governor or the state legislature.

How Long Does It Take a Felon to Regain the Right to Vote?

In locations where a felon’s voting rights are restored at some point, the timing varies wildly. Fifteen areas, including the District of Columbia, have voting rights restored upon release from prison. In five other states, voting rights are restored upon being discharged from parole. Twenty states restore voting rights upon full completion of a sentence, including prison, parole, probation, and any applicable fines. The remaining six states mostly vary, depending upon the exact type of conviction.

Although this gives a basic idea of how long it may take an individual felon to be allowed to vote again, it’s still broad. Felony probation, for example, can be anywhere from 18 months to 25 years. When the lengths of sentences, parole periods, and probation periods so widely run the gamut, an individual could get voting rights back as soon as a few years after being sentenced, or as long as decades afterward.

Essentially, every case is different. It doesn’t always have to do with whether an individual was convicted of a violent or nonviolent felony, or even with how long the individual’s sentence lasted. The same person committing the same crime in two different states could end up with vastly different convictions, sentences, and voting rights.


The conversation about felon voting rights is ongoing. But understand that a person’s right to vote or otherwise be in the public sphere doesn’t mean that they are automatically safe to be around.

For example, someone’s been in jail multiple times for robbery. In that case, you probably don’t want to leave them alone with any of your valuables. And if he or she has a record of violent crimes, then you’ll likely want to protect yourself even more. To try and learn these vital pieces of information, you can use PeopleFinders to perform an online criminal background check.

Felony charges vary substantially, and different felonies tend to have different levels of risk. Unfortunately, many felons aren’t upfront about their status. And those are usually the people with whom you want to be most cautious. You need to take your own steps to make sure you’re staying safe.

Anytime you start to get close with someone you don’t know that well, a criminal records search is just a smart idea. You could get information about whether the individual has committed a felony. And you may also get much more in-depth information about the type of felony.

Felony voting laws are complicated. But with PeopleFinders, determining your own safety doesn’t have to be.

Image attribution: Aleksandar Radovanov – stock.adobe.com

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