MAP: More Than 5 Million Voting-Age Americans With Felonies Can’t Vote

Inmates on the yard at San Quentin State Prison in 2012. (Monica Lam/KQED/CIR)

Nearly 5.2 million American citizens won't be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election because of a current or previous felony conviction.

That's about one out of 44 U.S. adults — close to 2.3% of the voting-age population — who remain disenfranchised because of various state voting restrictions, according to a report released last week by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group.

Most of this disenfranchised population is not currently behind bars; less than 25% are actually incarcerated. Far more have been released from prison but remain on parole or probation. The largest contingent, though — more than 2.2 million people — have completed their sentences altogether but live in a handful of states where the restoration of voting rights is far from guaranteed.

These voting prohibitions disproportionately affect African Americans, particularly men. One of every 13 African Americans of voting age — more than 7% nationally — is disenfranchised, the analysis found.

The map below shows estimated disenfranchisement rates by state and related voting restrictions, based on the report's findings. Note that some of the most restrictive states have passed legislation in recent years restoring voting rights to a growing number of people (but not all) who have completed their sentences. See a complete list of current state rules here. (To view map on mobile, turn device horizontally.)


Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state because of broad variations in voting prohibitions. In Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, more than 8% of the adult population — one of every 13 people, is disenfranchised, according to the report.

Some supporters of voting prohibition laws argue that committing a serious crime indicates a strong lack of moral character and judgement, and justifies disenfranchisement.

The following Above the Noise video from KQED Education does an excellent job breaking down this highly contentious issue. 

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Despite the huge number of adults in the U.S. who are unable to vote, the number has actually decreased significantly — by nearly 1 million people over the last four years. Since 2016, five states have restored voting rights to some people who remain on probation or parole, including Nevada (all non-prison), Colorado (parole), Louisiana (probation and many on parole), New Jersey (probation and parole) and New York (parole). California could soon join that list if voters approve Proposition 17 next month, which would restore voting rights to some 40,000 parolees.

Other states have revised waiting periods and streamlined the process for restoring voting rights. Among them is Florida, which has long had some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws and disenfranchises more people than any other state. In 2018, voters there passed Amendment 4, technically restoring voting rights to most people who have completed their sentences. But even so, the report estimates that nearly 900,000 Floridians who have completed their sentences still remain unable to vote, often because of the fines and court fees they are required to pay to reinstate their voting rights.

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“As a researcher, I've tracked the flurry of legal changes to restore the vote in recent years, so I was disappointed to find that 5.2 million citizens remain disenfranchised — three quarters of whom live and work alongside us in our communities,” said Christopher Uggen, the report's lead researcher, who is a professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota. “We cannot take these extreme voting restrictions for granted."