Voting rights for ex-prisoners differ by state. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia prevent convicted felons from voting while in prison but automatically restore voting rights once the felon is out of prison. Thirty-one states do not automatically restore voting rights upon prison release. Instead they require felons to complete additional post-prison requirements, which could include probation, parole, or implementing a waiting period of several years. Four states also include a provision where the governor must reinstate voting rights. Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote while behind bars.
The argument for reinstating voting rights centers around the perspective that voting rights are inherent, and once a felon has paid their debt to society, they deserve to have those rights reinstated. This perspective has gained momentum as our society evaluates criminal justice reform. Marijuana violations or mandatory minimum sentences produce felons, but those laws are constantly changing, so it’s illogical to disbar someone from being able to vote when their crimes may only be classified as misdemeanors in the future.
The argument against allowing felons to vote is that their actions are so grave that they do not deserve their rights restored. This obviously cuts against the idea that voting rights are in fact rights and not privileges. There is also the fear that giving felons the right to vote would allow them to vote in a politician who would change the law to make their previous crimes no longer a crime. This is an overblown argument since laws at both the state and federal level already constantly change.