States Should Not Deprive People in Prison of the Right to Vote

States Should Not Deprive People in Prison of the Right to Vote


The Point

The right to vote is critical to our democracy. States must restore it to incarcerated citizens.

States should repeal felony disenfranchisement laws:

  • States must allow incarcerated individuals to vote. Maine and Vermont have never disenfranchised people in prison, and D.C. abolished felony disenfranchisement last year in time for the 2020 election. A number of states, including Oregon, are considering restoring the right to vote this year. 
  • States must recognize that incarceration does not make anyone less of a citizen, and that voting is a primary way people exercise their citizenship. As Anthony Richardson, who is incarcerated in Oregon, told The Appeal: Political Report about people in prison, “Prison is about the loss of liberty, not the loss of citizenship.”  
  • States must put in place proactive policies to ensure that incarcerated individuals who are eligible to vote have the means to do so, as is too often not the case. States must help all citizens involved in the criminal legal system, whether or not they are incarcerated, register to vote and access information about their eligibility. 

Restoring the right to vote to people in prison is essential to our democracy:

  • Felony disenfranchisement is rooted in slavery and white supremacy, and remains a racist policy. “[Y]ou cannot connect the fundamental right to vote to a criminal justice system that is so thoroughly infected with racism,” Ryan Haygood, a New Jersey advocate, told The Appeal: Political Report
  • Felony disenfranchisement threatens everyone’s right to vote. “Once you take that right away from people who commit a crime and you say you can’t vote because you committed the crime, then you are moving down a very slippery slope,” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders told The Appeal: Political Report.
  • We get more just laws that help more people when people in prison can vote. As U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley told The Appeal, “Perhaps we would be further along in transforming the criminal legal system if people were held more accountable to those that are behind the walls.”

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