Restoring the Right to Vote by State

There is huge national momentum towards restoring voting rights to people with criminal convictions. Since 1997, twenty-three states have made legislative or policy changes restoring the vote to at least some people with criminal convictions or liberalizing the state's clemency procedures.

October 19, 2015

For a map of current state felon disenfranchisement policies, click here.

There is significant national momentum towards restoring voting rights to people with criminal convictions. Over the past two decades, more than 20 states have taken action (legislative or executive) to allow more people with past criminal convictions to vote, to vote sooner, or to access that right more easily.

The Brennan Center acts as legal counsel in the broader movement to restore voting rights to people with convictions. The Center analyzes state constitutions, statutes, and administrative rules to understand who is permitted to vote under what circumstances and how these rights might be expanded. We provide such analyses at pivotal points in the lawmaking process to spur reform. Our analyses also inform our general proposals for reform.

In addition, the Center drafts legislation to restore voting rights to people with criminal convictions. Our model bill outlines how best to restore voting rights upon release from prison. In our work with state and local advocates, we research the laws of individual states and draft legislation suited to their needs. We also advise and train advocates in legislative strategy, and we testify on bills, both progressive and regressive, in legislatures around the country. Most recently, Brennan Center drafted legislation that became law in Rhode Island and Maryland.

Affecting legal change does little if the improvements are not implemented by election officials. A critical component of the Brennan Center's felony re-enfranchisement work is assuring that states comply with their own laws and allow people with felony convictions to register and vote as soon as they are eligible. In New York and Alabama, the Brennan Center conducted surveys of local boards of elections, which documented that election officials were disenfranchising citizens who were legally eligible to vote. The Brennan Center then worked with officials to improve their practices and created education materials to ensure that citizens with past convictions are aware of their voting rights.

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