According to the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 73 percent of Americans favor restoring voting rights to nonviolent drug offenders who have served their sentences, with strong majorities among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.
Eighty-two percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents, and 66 percent of Republicans all favor allowing nonviolent drug offenders who have served their sentences to vote.
There were discrepancies between those of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, however. An overwhelming number of African-Americans—91 percent—are in favor. However, 72 percent of whites, and only 66 percent of Hispanics are in favor. Still, there are clear majorities among all three groups polled.
As things currently stand, only two states—Maine and Vermont—have no restrictions on voting for convicted felons. In these states, felons may even vote absentee from jail or prison. However, the majority of states pose some restrictions on voting for those who have been convicted of a felony. In eight states, voting restrictions are imposed on offenders incarcerated for a misdemeanor offense.
Thirteen states and Washington D.C. restore voting rights for all convicted felons after they are released from prison or jail. In four states, voting rights are restored for convicted felons after they complete their term of incarceration and parole, and 20 states allow voting rights to be restored after convicted felons complete their term of incarceration, parole and/or probation.
Of the remaining states, various restrictions are imposed on those who have been convicted of felony offenses. Some states, like Virginia, allow only those who were convicted of a nonviolent felony to have their voting rights restored after completing their prison sentence, parole and/or probation, and have paid all of their court costs. Other states allow felons to have their voting rights restored only after receiving an executive pardon from the governor.
Florida, the state with the toughest voting restrictions for convicted felons, prohibits anyone convicted of any felony offense—even nonviolent offenders—from ever voting. As a result, it has the largest number of disenfranchised citizens out of any state in the country. As of 2012, 10.4 percent of the entire state population was prohibited from voting due to a felony conviction.
According to data provided by the Sentencing Project, roughly 5.85 million American citizens were disenfranchised through the criminal justice system in 2012. At that time, roughly 7 percent of all African-Americans had lost their right to vote.
Public opinion seems to side with Senator Rand Paul, who recently filed legislation that would allow individuals convicted of a nonviolent criminal offense to vote in federal elections after they have completed their terms of incarceration and parole/probation. That legislation, however, only has a two percent chance of being enacted according to govtrack.us.
There's no real public safety threat in allowing those who have completed their sentences—even those convicted of violent crimes—from expressing themselves at the ballot box. Still, it's a welcome sign that public opinion overwhelmingly favors allowing at least nonviolent drug offenders to vote after they've served their sentences.