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One of the fundamental rights of being an American citizen is getting your voice heard by voting to elect your representatives. But as of 2019, close to 6 million Americans can't vote because of their felony records.
"Should felons vote?" is one of the most debated issues in American politics. While some say people who do not obey the law should not have a say in how the law is legislated, others argue that individuals with felonies should be allowed to vote since they are subject to all the obligations imposed by the government.
So, can felons vote? The answer is: It depends on the state. Despite what you may think, there is no federal law that addresses a citizen's ability to vote. Thus, for now, states determine voting rights, including felony disenfranchisement, for both state and federal elections.
Most of us think felons permanently lose their voting rights. That is not the case, however. State laws vary significantly when it comes to felon voting. So, if you are thinking of casting your vote in this election, it is crucial that you to do some research on what your specific state's laws are.
Here is a summary of how felon voting rights are categorized among states.
1) You never lose the right to vote: If you reside in Maine or Vermont, and have a felony on your record, you will never lose your right to vote, even when you are incarcerated.
2) You can't vote until you finish your prison term: 16 states and the District of Columbia will reinstate your right to vote as soon as you are released from prison. However, you may have to re-register through the normal process to be eligible to vote. Nevada, Michigan, Utah, and Illinois are among the states that follow this procedure.
3) You can't vote until you complete your sentence (or wait a bit longer): Alaska, Minnesota, Texas, and California are among the states that will allow you to vote once you complete your full sentence, including parole and probation. Some states, like Florida, also require you to pay any outstanding debts before they restore your voting rights.
Finally, some states make you wait for a period of time after you complete your sentence before they restore your rights. For example, in Nebraska, you need to wait two years after you complete probation before you can vote.
4) You permanently lose your right to vote (depending on the crime): If you live in one of these states, you may indefinitely lose your voting rights if you have been convicted of certain crimes. In Tennessee, for instance, you will be permanently disenfranchised if you have been convicted of any infamous crimes unless you get a pardon.
In stricter states like Iowa, you will permanently lose your voting rights if you have any felony conviction.