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Research Report


  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • American Civil Liberties Union
Published: October 1, 2004

The flawed purges of people with felony convictions from Florida’s voter rolls during the 2000 and 2004 elections are now well known. In 2000, thousands of legal voters were purged from Florida’s voter rolls. One list sent to Florida officials erroneously included the names of 8,000 Florida residents who had committed misdemeanors—not felonies—in Texas. In 2004, despite Florida’s sizable Hispanic population, the state’s purge list contained only 61 Hispanic surnames, and also mistakenly included thousands who had had their voting rights restored. After these and other errors were publicized, the state withdrew its felon purge list. But under Florida law, county election officials may still purge voters based on their own, locally generated lists.

While Florida’s purges of felons from voter rolls in 2000 have received national attention, little is known about the procedures other states use. To shed some light on these procedures, we surveyed the purge processes of 15 states. The states have a wide variety of disfranchisement laws. All except Maine and Vermont prohibit incarcerated felons from voting. Thirtyfive states restrict those on parole, 31 of them also restrict those on probation, and seven deny the right to vote to all felons who have completed their sentences. In seven other states, described here as “mixed status” states, a person can permanently lose the right to vote based on criminal history, type of offense, or when the offense occurred. The result: Nearly 5 million American citizens, two percent of the voting-age population, have lost the fundamental right to participate in our political process.

African-American men make up one and a half million of this number, 13 percent of black men. This is a rate 7 times the national average. Worse, three in ten of the next generation of black men can expect to be disfranchised at some point in their lives. 

This survey reflects our research of state law as supplemented by conversations with representatives from each state’s chief elections agency and two county election agencies. Through our research and conversations, we sought to answer the following questions: (1) how does the state compile its felon purge list?, (2) how do the state’s elections officials “match” people with felony convictions against individuals listed on their voter registration list before purging them from the rolls?, and (3) does the state notify the individuals deemed “matched” that they will be or have been purged?