Do Prisoners in the U.S.A. Have the Right to Vote?

Well, the question is “exactly what it says on the tin”, really. My reason for asking is that someone has asked that on a message board based in CelynLand, and, I, immediately thinking, “Oh, good grief, this might be one of those things that differ state by state”, I thought I ought to come along and ask the experts.
Or ask here anyway*. :slight_smile:

I have always assumed it would **not be a state-by-state thing, but I am suddenly aware of my ignorance here.
Please, this ignorance of mine is painful, do please help.

    • That bit, it was a thing I told you that was only in jest - no disrespect intended.
      ** Nah, “suddenly aware” is not quite true and accurate, sadly. Slow brain here. :slight_smile:
      But do please tell me, someone. :slight_smile:

This ignorance I have, it causes me pain and hurt … oh, an did you want to know how I feel about my toothache? Oh, all right then …

[runs off into to corner, whing all the whiile]

47 states do not allow prisoners the right to vote. There are three states that do allow prisoners to vote, and they are Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.


Yup, it differs state by state. Only two states, Vermont and Maine, allow convicted felons to vote while imprisoned (Massachusetts used to but changed the law in 2000).

Some states ban convicted felons from voting permanently, even after the completion of their sentences, and some require special permission for felons to be reinstated on the voting rolls.

I take back my link! Thanks Kimstu!
And Florida is one of those states which does not allow convicted felons to vote.

No prob! Interestingly, both Maine and Vermont have extremely low crime rates compared to most other states, but I doubt that felon-voting policies are a major factor in that.

The OP asked about prisoners, and the answers have been about convicted felons. Do prisoners who are not convicted felons (e.g., people awaiting trial but unable or unwilling to get bail) have the right to vote, and can they exercise that right from inside prison in practice?

In New York, prisoners who are not convicted felons can vote by absentee ballot through the mail.

I believe posts 2 and 3 qualify as answers to the OP’s question about prisoners having the right to vote. The link I provided is concerning prisoners and former prisoners.

Correct me if I am wrong, please.

Both links are actually talking about convicted felons. But “prisoners” can include people convicted of misdemeanors or awaiting trial.

True, let me step back and see what is going on.

The US legal system presumes innocence until proven guilty. Thus, until you’ve been convicted (or plead guilty), you are not a felon and still have the right to vote. That should be universal; to deny someone who hasn’t been convicted a vote would be unconstitutional.

The Boston Globe article linked above is incorrect. It says, “The laws of 47 states impose disenfranchisement for all prisoners and former prisoners.” I think they mean to say either, “for currently incarcerated felons”, or “for all persons currently convicted and incarcerated of any crime”. I’m not sure which is correct, but the original statement isn’t.

Here are the laws of Illinois:

So Illinois disenfranchises all convicted prisoners (felony or misdemeanor), but not prisoners awaiting trial, and not former prisoners.

The term prisoner is commonly used for any person being held in custody. But technically only a convicted person is a prisoner. A person being held prior to conviction (or for non-criminal reasons) is a detainee.

Out of curiosity, how is the disenfranchisement of prisoners justified under the U.S. Constitution? It would seem to me that it would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically the clause about “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Voting isn’t an inherent privilege of citizenship. If it was, children could vote.

The only constitutional restrictions on state suffrage laws are that states may not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age (for persons over 18), or failure to pay a poll tax. Each of these restrictions required a Constitutional amendment. None were covered by the generic language of the privileges and immunities clause, which in any case was rendered a nullity by the Slaughterhouse Cases.

Beyond that, a completely arbitrary suffrage law (for example, that people whose last names began with “Q” couldn’t vote) would no doubt violate the Equal Protection clause. Disenfranchisement of former prisoners is currently being challenged on just such grounds.

Because it also says “without due process of the law”. As long as you got a trial, you had due process.

Oh boy! I should have guessed that it wouldn’t be quite straightforward. :slight_smile: Thank you all very much for your help.:slight_smile:

Ah, but due process applies only to deprivation of life, liberty, or property, not to privileges and immunities. So sayeth the semicolons.