Chart: Why Felon Disenfranchisement Matters

The margin of victory in several high-profile and highly-contested Senate races this election was much smaller than the number of felons ineligible to vote.


Via Demos' Sean McElwee, here's an interesting look at the extent to which disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions may influence election outcomes. In several high-profile and highly-contested Senate races this election, the margin of victory was much smaller than the number of felons ineligible to vote:  


Is this to say all those felons would have voted if they were allowed, or would have voted in a way that changed these races' outcomes? Of course not. But it does support the idea that restoring felons' voting rights could have a political impact. 

Dara Lind recently took at look at state differences in disenfranchisement policies. With the exception of Maine and Vermont, all states prohibit those currently incarcerated for a felony from voting. The majority (including Alaska, Georgia, and North Carolina) prohibit those on parole or probation for a felony crime from voting. And in 12 states (including Florida), those with felony convictions are stripped of voting rights even after they've completed their sentence, in some cases forever. "As a result, according to the Sentencing Project, 5.8 million American citizens have lost their voting rights through the criminal-justice system," writes Lind. "And one in every thirteen African-American citizens has lost his or her right to vote this way." 

According to the latest Reason-Rupe poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans favor restoring voting rights to at least some felons: those convicted of non-violent drug offences. In June, Sen. Rand Paul introduced legislation to restore voting rights to all non-violent felony offenders. 

It's a start, at least. I agree with my colleague Jacob Sullum (and the ACLU) that anyone who has served their time for the crime they committed should have their voting rights restored upon release. "It has never made sense to me," writes Sullum, 'that committing a felony should forever turn someone into a second-class citizen, which contradicts the goal of reintegrating people into society after they've completed their sentences." 

More state-by-state info on felon voting rights here

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  1. What exactly is the justification for stripping felons of their franchise in the first place? Are people worried that politicians will try to buy the convict vote by offering to treat them with a modicum of human dignity?

    1. What do you mean “them”?!? I know what you did.

      1. Yeah, I said “convict” asshole. As in caught, tried, and convicted. Doesn’t matter what I did, it only matters what they can prove.

        1. I’m feeling a little mistreated right now. Its’s been several hours since somebody called me an asshole, and I was feeling good about it.

          1. It only would have lasted until the next time you see your kids anyway.

            1. “If your kids don’t cower in terror when you get home, you have failed as a parent”

        2. Wrong, Hugh. I know what you did last summer. I KNOW.

          (please tell me you actually look like 90s Jennifer Love Hewitt)

          1. This is why there are no libertarian transsexuals.

            1. Have you never heard of Deirdre McCloskey? If not, I suggest you read some of her work.

              1. There’s an economist I could get behind.

          2. Do you think I’d be wasting time on this site if I looked like that?

            I do have a birthmark that looks like Freddie Prinze Jr, though.

            1. I guess that’s going to have to be enough. Now you’re sure you don’t look like Rachael Leigh Cook either?

              1. I’m sure. I do have a promotional Josie & the Pussycats Parker Posey mask that I can wear if that helps.

                1. …it’ll have to do. And you don’t look like a young Neve Campbell either? You’re a real disappointment, Hugh.

                  1. I have been told that I look like Demi Moore. But since I am not a felon, I have never been to prison, and I vote in every election for which I am eligible to cast a ballot.

                    I swear that looking like Demi doesn’t mean I vote like Demi. Matter of fact, I normally vote Libertarian, so some say I shouldn’t vote at all.

                    1. You should always vote, and if all candidates suck or they don’t represent you write yourself in.
                      Its not like they would ever let it change anything but a vote for self says fuck all you, ill do it my damn self you unqualified partisan pricks.

                      if you look like Demi, then baby, i wanna do to you what the state does to the proletariat. TIWTANFL

    2. We take away all the tools of violence from convicted felons, the right to own a gun, the right to vote…

      1. When you take away from felons the right to vote, only criminals will… erm. How does this go?

      2. Back when most of these laws were passed the typical felon was someone like John Dillinger. Today it’s more likely someone like Martha Stewart.

        Why should Ms Stewart be prohibited from voting and protecting herself?

    3. Assuming you’re serious, the argument goes that the felon has demonstrated a willingness to violate the rights of others, and that this mentality makes him unfit to have a voice in what the monopoly of violence does.

      Myself, I support this viewpoint provided that felonies are all of a NAP-violating nature.

    4. The 14th Amendment. It has a clause that explicitly allows this.

    5. A relic of the time when most people didn’t think that anyone, no matter how foolish, evil, or uninformed, should vote, and that that would be good for society.

      Truly, those were dark days.

  2. Most states *already* let felons vote after completing their sentences (including probation and parole). Florida is one of the odd men out.

  3. On a somewhat unrelated note, does anyone remember this?:…..-president

    “Earlier today, when swearing-in newly-seated Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Vice President Biden, who serves as President of the Senate, said, “I never get along with any interest groups in the United States Senate. The only one that I really respect, and I don’t agree with them most of the time, is the ACLU. Because they never, never vary. They have principles. They defend Nazis marching in Skokie. I admire you.”

    I know the ACLU catches some flack, but they are usually pretty consistent. For instance, they supported the Citizens United ruling and have stated they will fight any attempt to overturn it.

    1. That’s not really true. The ACLU pretty much only supports leftist causes (which I guess is why they like the neo-Nazis)

      1. Free speech is a leftist cause? Are you a mongoloid by any chance?

    2. I have mixed feelings for the ACLU. They generally do a pretty good job defending liberty, but they are actively anti-gun, and I find it hard to forgive that. It would be one thing for them to say “You know what, the NRA has a massive amount of funding and a large member base, we’ll leave defending the 2nd Amendment to them and concentrate on other things”, but instead they continually deny that it is even an individual right and support the “collective right” model, which has been completely discredited at this point.

      1. From what I can gather, the National Headquarters seems to have moderated a bit over the last 10 years. State affiliates are also given flexibility on this issue, so that’s a positive. I understand your concern on this issue though.

  4. We can’t let felons vote, especially non-violent felons, because after living the absurdity that is the drug war, they might vote for people who would end it.

  5. I was having a conversation about felons losing their rights with a conservative coworker of mine, and I may have sparked some thought.

    His argument was that felons, by their committing crimes worthy of being felonies, have given up their right to participate in the system, and have proven that they are too dangerous to legally own a gun.

    My response was that while his argument has some merit, power will always be abused. If felonies were limited to serious crimes like murder and rape, I might be inclined to agree. However, nothing stops politicians from increasing the list of felonies, which deprives people of their rights despite their never hurting another person’s life, liberty or property. And that is exactly what has happened. I also asked him why felons should be deprived of the right to defend themselves by asking if their lives were worth less than the life of someone else. Especially after they have served their time.

    I’ll never make a libertarian out of that old Marine, but he is willing to think about different viewpoints. Better than nothing.

    1. Try the same thing with a proggy friend (assuming you have any left) and watch his interest flare at the thought of making gun owners felons.

      1. I don’t have any proggy friends left. Lost the last one over a conversation about minimum wage.

  6. Of course, we’ve also seen stories where the number of supposedly ineligible felons who did vote was enough to tip the race.

    If nothing else, we need to discount the number of felons who are ineligible by (a) the number who vote anyway and (b) the number who wouldn’t vote regardless.

    I say this as someone who doesn’t think felons should suffer permanent loss of any rights after they serve their time. I just hate sloppy analysis, is all.

  7. It seems to me that the first issue is the number of self-rightious people who willfully REGISTER ineligable felons, because they think the laws is wrong. The law may be wrong, especially with so many “crimes” being felonies. That doesn’t alter that registering felons who are ineligable is election fraud. Of which there is entirely too mcu.

    Admitedly it’s my perception that most of it is by Democrats, but it could easily go the other way. I don’t trust political organizations. I may USE them, but I don’t trust them any further than I could kick them in my stocking feet.

    Election laws should be enforced and respected. Not treated as inconveniences to be ignoored. Because when the populace can no longer trust the election process, life will get REALLY ugly.

    There’s certainly an argument for allowing felons to vote. Especially after they serve their sentences. But there’s a stronger argument for making damn sure that the government plays by the rules. Because if the rules inconvenience thePolitical Class, and they aren’t allowed to ignore them, maybe they won’t make so goddsdamned many rules.

    1. Because if the rules inconvenience thePolitical Class, and they aren’t allowed to ignore them, maybe they won’t make so goddsdamned many rules.

      They’ve got FYTW, since the people who wield violence without consequence answer to them. The ruling class has never had to follow their own rules, nor will they ever. They’ve got organized violence on their side. No individual can beat that. You can only overcome organized violence with organized violence. And even if you overthrow them, you’re right back where you started. The only difference is that you’ve now got a new ruling class. They still command people who wield organized violence without consequence, and as such don’t have to follow their own rules. Rule of law has never existed. There is only rule of men who employ organized violence.

  8. If we were to actually enforce all laws, we’d have 3 felonies a day, and that’s just at the Federal level–add a couple more for the states.

    Therefore, no one should be allowed to vote.

  9. If your a felon you are a 2nd class citizen, and anyone who attempts a felony on me will be a dead 2nd class citizen thanks to Florida recognizing my right of self defense.

    1. Florida also made it a felony to release a balloon where it might float into a protected area and harm an endangered critter.

      Might want to think twice before you plug someone for that.

  10. ?anyone who has served their time for the crime they committed should have their voting rights restored upon release.

    I’d go even further. Maine and Vermont have it right?if you’ve had your freedom deprived because you were convicted of breaking a law, you should absolutely have a say in who gets to write and enforce those laws in the future. Especially if you’re still in prison.

    1. I hope you realize that positive law is not real law. Real, natural law can only be logically derived from first principles. They are universally true and logically consistent, regardless of time, place or culture.

      You can make rules. But you cannot make law. If you attempt to force other people to obey those rules you are committing a crime. As such, the would-be victim has a right to self-defense against those enforcers.

      I don’t obey someone if they tell me to bow down to them. Why should I still obey if write that down on a piece of paper endorsed by the state?

      1. Ok, sure. I don’t know what any of that has to do with voting rights.

  11. Anyone subjected to the laws of the government assuming jurisdiction has a right to vote for that government. Anything else is genuinely revolution-worthy, no? Who among us is more directly handled by government than prisoners?

  12. I have long advocated that federal employees should not have a right to vote.

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