Restoration of Voter Rights

Voting is a right originally provided in the US Constitution to some and expanded with amendments 15th, 19th, and 26th in addition to state laws.

This right has been taken away from many individuals with criminal records across the country which impacts the recovery community. It is important to acknowledge that this striping away of a basic right disproportionately affects people of color. Fighting for the right to restore everyone’s right to vote invites citizenship and civic engagement back into the lives of those that have been affected. 

The War on Drugs has attributed significantly to this loss of these voting rights. In less than 40 years, the US incarcerated population went from 300,000 to well over 2.3 million people, with drug convictions accounting for much of this increase. According to the Sentencing Project, that is a 500% growth in prison population in the last 40 years. 1/5th of the current incarcerated population is serving for a drug related charge. Another 1.15 million people are on probation or parole for drug related offenses which has a direct effect on how many individuals had their voting rights taken away.

Much more can be found here relating to prison populations and here on racial disparities.

Each state has different right to vote laws for people with felony convictions. Many people with felony convictions have lost their right to vote and may not know they can restore that right. Please take a moment to check your state. We will work to update the list below but encourage you to do additional research.

  • In 2 states (Maine and Vermont) felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated. 
  • In 16 states(CO,HI,IL,IN,MD,MA,MI,MT,NV,NH,ND,OH,OR,PA,RI,UT) and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release. Some of these states include voter registration information upon reentry into communities.
  • In 21 states(AK,AR,CA,CT,GA,ID,KS,LA,MN, MO,NJ,NM, NY,NC,OK,SC,TX,WA,WV,WI), felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well. 
  • In 11 states(AL,AZ,DE,FL,IA,KY, MS, NE, TN, VA,WY) felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) or require additional action before voting rights can be restored. 

Many advocacy organizations are working to make advances on the state level to restore everyone’s right to vote. If this is an issue that speaks to you, spend some time looking into efforts already underway, or reach out to Recovery Advocacy Project to create your own campaigns for voter restoration by emailing [email protected]

We found an excellent guide to voter restoration here.

If you are a convicted felon, here is another helpful tool you can use to search by state and conviction to determine if your right to vote is or can be restored, the process in your state for restoration, and additional advocacy tools to advance restoration efforts in your state.

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