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Should People Convicted of a Crime Be Allowed to Vote?

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If you’re a citizen and at least 18, you can vote in elections, right? Well, no. If you’ve been convicted of a crime, it’s possible that you could have that right taken away. It’s called felony disenfranchisement.

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Download lesson plan and get started on KQED Learn.

What is felony disenfranchisement?

When a state takes away your ability to vote because you’ve been convicted of a crime, it’s called felony disenfranchisement. The word felony is in there because it usually applies to the felony class of crimes, which are more serious crimes that put people in prison for at least a year. So, we’re talking violent crimes like rape and murder. But some states also include some nonviolent crimes like bribery or lying under oath or trafficking drugs. Most states automatically restore the right to vote after people finish serving their sentences. But in some states, for certain crimes, you can permanently lose your right to vote.

What is the argument FOR felony disenfranchisement?

The argument you’ll probably hear boils down to something like, “If you can’t follow the laws in your own life, why should you be trusted to help make laws for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote?” Remember, people convicted of felonies often lose other rights, like serving on a jury, owning a gun, getting welfare payments, and receiving financial aid for college. Why should voting be any different?


What is the argument AGAINST felony disenfranchisement?

For many, voting is a bedrock principle of what it means to be a democracy, meaning it’s a right that shouldn’t be taken away. If you’ve served your time, and you’re now out, living in the world, you should get the right to vote. Period. Many go even further, arguing that taking away that right is a political move, designed to prevent people from voting. They say it’s just another example of voter suppression.


Felon Voting Rights (National Conference of State Legislatures)

Can Felons Vote? It Depends on the State (NY Times)

A Brief History of Felon Disenfranchisement (Organization of American Historians)

6 Million Lost Voters (The Sentencing Project)

Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History (The Brennan Center)

If You Can’t Follow Laws, You Shouldn’t Help Make Them (NY Times Opinion)

There Are Good Reasons for Felons to Lose the Right to Vote (National Review)

Why are Blacks Democrats? (Princeton University Press)

Felons have the potential to swing close 2020 races (Politico)

Black imprisonment rates in the U.S. (Pew Research Center)

2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism (U.S. Department of Justice)

Restoration of Voting Rights Poll (Huffington Post/YouGov)



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