Can Felons Vote in Illinois?
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Steven J. Ellison, Esq. | Last reviewed November 30, 2022
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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
A 2019 law allows eligible 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) only applies to counties with over three million people.
If you are confined or detained in a county jail in one of these counties, you must be given a chance to vote.
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 formally list the charges against you
- Waiting for your trial to start (if you are in jail waiting for trial, you can vote by mail)
- Charged with a felony (anytime before you are officially convicted of the crime)
- 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 are considered an ex-felon, and your criminal record cannot stand in the way of your vote.
Felon Voting Rights Under Illinois State Law
When you leave jail or prison, your right to vote returns right away. Technically, it is reinstated when the staff removes 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 will not be stopped from voting. Your eligibility to vote is handled through the Illinois Secretary of State. Remember that you may need to show 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 do not take away your right to vote forever. You do not 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 voting rights restoration
First-Time Voters After Prison or Jail
If this is the first time you have voted in years, you will need to complete voter registration or re-register to vote. You can vote in any state or federal election as long as your sentence was served, and your name is no longer on the felony conviction list.
You have the right to use an absentee or mail-in ballot for early voting in upcoming elections. You cannot be stopped from voting 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. Your vote will still be counted.
- You don't have a government-issued ID. Check this list for other forms of acceptable IDs, or you can choose to 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 has been removed from the felony conviction list.
Other States and the Future of Felony Disenfranchisement
Since state law determines which felons get to vote, there are many states that still do not allow felons to vote after they have served their sentences. If you move to one of these states, you will lose your voting rights.
There is a 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.
Learn About Voting While in Prison
While you cannot vote, there is still an opportunity to be ready 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
- 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?
Suppose a polling place is denying your right to vote. You should talk to a civil rights attorney about your charges not being cleared yet, or the polling staff trying to stop you based on your criminal record.