Restoring Voter Rights for Felons

Traditionally, when a person is convicted of a felony in the United States, they lose their right to vote. Most states have some sort of procedure to return voting privileges to felons, but not all. This article discusses felony disenfranchisement and restoring a felon's voting rights.

What Is Disenfranchisement?

Disenfranchisement occurs when the government intentionally removes someone's right to vote. Disenfranchisement may involve groups of people, such as the now-illegal "poll taxes" of the Jim Crow South. Or it may involve individuals, like laws preventing people convicted of felony crimes from voting.

Anyone convicted of a felony in the United States loses the right to vote. Those convicted of misdemeanors are not similarly disenfranchised.

Is Restricting Voting Rights for Felons Constitutional?

Under the Constitution, states are free to set their own voting laws. The federal government only stepped in to guarantee voting rights after the Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees voting to all male adults, and the Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to all adult women. The right of 18-year-olds to vote on matters concerning them was the last one added in 1971.

No amendment to the Constitution guarantees votes for those convicted of crimes. Before the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Richardson v. Ramirez, the courts had never ruled on the constitutionality of states restricting voting rights. That decision held that the Fourteenth Amendment allowed states to restrict voting rights to persons for "participation in rebellion, or other crime."

Restoring Voting Rights for Felons

States may determine their own voting laws, including whether a felony conviction is grounds for permanent disenfranchisement. States have a long history of prohibiting felons from voting, then reinstating the rights later. Nearly all allow most former felons to restore their voting rights after completing their sentences.

As of 2024, there are three general systems for letting individuals recover their voting rights:

  • No loss of rights
  • Automatic reinstatement
  • Conditional reinstatement

No loss of rights: Maine, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., do not disenfranchise any individuals. Felony inmates may still vote, even while incarcerated.

Automatic reinstatement: A majority of states allow restoration of voting rights once a person completes a felony sentence. There are three types of automatic restoration of rights:

In some states, completion of the prison sentence is sufficient. Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are states where the end of the sentence restores the person's rights.

In a few states, the person must complete their prison sentence and all terms of probation or parole. New Mexico, Kansas, and Texas require former inmates to complete their full terms, including parole, to restore their voting rights.

Louisiana returns a person's rights after completing their sentence and five years of parole. Those who have completed parole or who are on probation may register to vote.

The mechanism for restoring voting rights differs in each state. Under California's new law, a formerly incarcerated person must re-register with the state office. In others, they must present a Certificate of Completion from their parole office. In Nebraska, a person's rights return two years after completing all parole and probation terms.

The states with automatic reinstatement are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Check with your state's voter registration office for the precise reinstatement terms in your state.

Conditional reinstatement: Some states have conditional requirements for reinstating felony voting rights. Disenfranchisement may be permanent. These conditions depend on the nature of the felony offense, the number of criminal convictions, and the status of the applicant's probation or parole.


A person convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude or on probation or parole for the same crime may not vote in any election until after unconditional discharge. Individuals must re-register.


Alabama citizens lose the right to vote upon a felony conviction involving moral turpitude. All offenders may have their voting rights restored, except in cases of treason or impeachment, if there has been a pardon or they have received a certificate of eligibility.


Florida's felony disenfranchisement laws have undergone a series of twists and turns since Amendment 4, granting felons the right to vote. It was overwhelmingly passed in 2018. Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB7066, requiring payment of fines and restitution before reinstatement the following year. The 11th Circuit Court has upheld SB7066.


Persons convicted of a disqualifying felony must receive a pardon before they may register to vote. Disqualifying felonies include murder or manslaughter, sexual offenses, bribery, improper influence, or abuse of office.


On August 5, 2020, Governor Kim Reynolds signed Executive Order 7, automatically restoring the citizenship rights of all individuals convicted of a felony, except those convicted of homicide or related crimes. The Executive Order rescinds a previous order signed by then-Governor Terry Branstad. Executive Order 7 does not apply to having gun rights restored.


Like Iowa, Kentucky has been subject to dueling Executive Orders. On December 12, 2019, Governor Andy Beshear signed Executive Order 2019-033, restoring the voting rights of 140,000 non-violent felons. Then-Governor Matthew Bevin stripped those rights during his term. Kentucky hasn't passed any legislation or constitutional amendment that sets either of these orders as law. Violent felons must still request an executive pardon to restore their rights.


A person may not vote if convicted of a disqualifying crime. The lengthy list of disqualifying crimes includes violent crimes and also such crimes as bigamy, felony shoplifting, grand theft auto, or passing bad checks. A pardon, an application to the governor for an executive order to restore civil rights, or an individual Bill of Suffrage passed by the legislature can restore voting rights.


Eligibility to vote depends on the type of crime and date of conviction. Those convicted of "infamous" crimes can't have their voting rights restored. Other people must receive a pardon or have their citizenship rights restored and pay all fines, costs, and restitution. Tennessee is unusual among the states in that voter fraud has been a disqualifying felony since 1986.


First-time offenders of non-violent felonies automatically have their voting rights restored upon release from incarceration and/or parole or probation. People who completed their sentences before 2010 must apply for the restoration of voting rights. Those with violent or repeated felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised unless the governor pardons them.

Learn about your state with our page on felon voting laws by state.

Need Help Restoring Your Voting Rights After a Felony?

Just because you committed a felony does not mean that you can never vote again. You may be able to restore your rights, and it might be easier than you think. Contact your state voter registration office to determine your eligibility status. Consider working with a local civil rights attorney who can explain the process and help you get your right to vote back.

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