People Living with Felony Convictions

Felony Disenfranchisement_2015.png

Felony Disenfranchisement_2015.png
Felony Disenfranchisement by State; Source: The Sentencing Project

The United States denies more people the right to vote because of felony convictions than any other country in the world. The right to vote after conviction can vary from state to state – in some cases, voting rights can be lost for relatively minor offenses. These voting restrictions disproportionately affect people experiencing poverty and minority communities.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, convicted felons constitute the largest single group of American citizens who are barred by law from participating in elections. That this group remains disenfranchised … reflects not only its racial composition but also its utter lack of political leverage.”
Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: the Contested History of Democracy in the United States

Setting the Stage: Rising Incarceration Rates and Felon Disenfranchisement

Today’s high rate of disenfranchisement for people living with felony records comes, in part, from simply imprisoning more people. Arrests and convictions began to rise in the early 1970s and continue to remain high today.

As public fear of crime has grown, stricter laws and policies have been enacted that have increased the number of people convicted. Along with higher conviction rates, some areas of the country give much longer sentences, particularly for non-violent crimes, than ever before.

Higher incarceration rates don’t necessarily show that there has been a rise in violent criminal behavior, however. Instead, they reflect a shift in criminal justice trends. Many states have expanded their definitions of felonies to include more non-violent behaviors. The war on drugs and mandatory sentencing policies also contribute to higher numbers of convictions. People convicted of violent offenses make up a small fraction of the total U.S. felon population.