Can Felons Vote in Illinois?
You can vote in Illinois if you previously served a felony prison sentence, are waiting for sentencing, or are in the midst of a trial. You cannot vote if you are a convicted felon about to go to prison or are currently in jail or prison for a felony.
Voting While Detained in County Jail
Voting is a cherished American right. A 2019 law allows eligible Illinois voters in county jail to vote by mail. It also requires election authorities to set up temporary polling places in county jails. This law (SB 2090) applies to counties with over three million people.
Detainees in county jail can register and vote under this new law. Persons charged with misdemeanors can vote this way.
Your Right to Vote Before or After a Felony Sentence
You have the right to vote if you are currently:
- Waiting for a judge to read the charges against you
- Waiting for your trial to start (if you're in jail waiting for trial, you can vote by mail)
- Charged with a felony (under indictment)
- Out of jail or prison
- An ex-offender
- On parole or probation (or other post-incarceration programs through the Illinois Department of Corrections)
- In the process of appealing a felony charge or a felony conviction
After your sentence, you're an ex-felon, and your criminal record can't stand in the way of your vote.
Felon Voting Rights Under Illinois State Law
Your right to vote returns when you leave jail or prison. The staff restores your rights when they remove your name from the felony conviction list. You still need to re-register to vote following the service of your sentence.
The county voting registry will no longer see your name on this list, and you can register and vote. The Illinois Secretary of State handles voter eligibility. Remember that you may need proof that you served your sentence if the registry is behind on data.
A Felony Doesn't Mean You Lose Your Voting Rights
Rest assured that a felony conviction and serving time don't take away your right to vote forever. You don't need to do anything after leaving jail or prison to reinstate your voting rights. If a polling place does not let you vote, you may need to:
- Show proof you served your sentence
- Call the Secretary of State's office to ask why your name is still on the felony conviction list
- Get help from an attorney experienced in the restoration of rights
First-Time Voters After Prison or Jail
If this is the first time you have voted in years, you must complete voter registration or re-register to vote. You can vote in any state or federal election as long as you complete your sentence, and your name is no longer on the felony conviction list.
You can use an absentee or mail-in ballot for early voting in upcoming elections. You can vote if:
- You don't have a permanent address. There is an affidavit (legal document) you can sign saying you don't have a permanent address or photo ID.
- You don't have a government-issued ID. Check this list for other forms of acceptable IDs. You can sign an affidavit that says you don't have a photo ID.
- You are overseas but still a resident of Illinois. You can use a mail-in ballot or seek help for overseas voters.
- You can prove you served your sentence, or your name is no longer on the felony conviction list.
Other States and the Future of Felony Disenfranchisement
State law determines which felons get to vote, and many states still don't allow felons to vote after they have served their sentences. Others have used executive orders to establish voting rights for all citizens. Some states have a two-year waiting period following release to restore voting rights.
There is a voting rights restoration movement to stop the disenfranchisement of felons nationwide. Many argue that all people with felony convictions, including those in prison, should be able to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that it's up to the states, not the federal government, to make these decisions.
State laws differ on felon voting rights. Vermont, Maine, and Washington, D.C., are the only states where felons never lose their voting rights, even in prison. Some states, like Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, permanently bar some individuals from voting even after completing their sentences. Felons may be able to vote in national elections but not local elections.
Learn About Voting While in Prison
While you can't vote while in prison, there is still a way to vote upon your release.
The Illinois Department of Corrections is required, under HB 2541, to provide neutral, non-partisan programs led by peers to educate incarcerated people on:
- Voting rights and voter fraud
- Government processes, agencies, and companies
- Current affairs
- Elections and the democratic process
They also offer practice voting booking sessions and voting sessions.
Register to Vote Today
Register at the DMV, online, in person, or by mail. Polling places have special accommodations and on-site staff to help you sign affidavits and protect your right to vote. Learn more in our Illinois Voting Guide.
Denied the Right to Vote?
If a polling place denies your right to vote, your charges may not have been cleared from the registration lists. You will need to speak to a civil rights attorney to have your record cleared. There may be other issues that need to be addressed before you can get your civil rights fully restored.