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Are Convicted Felons Eligible to Vote in the Upcoming Elections?

As the nation counts down the days until the 2020 Presidental elections, a lot of topics concerning voter suppression and systematic racial have come to the forefront. More so, after the racial uprisings concerning discrimination against people of color and police brutality.

And as the American citizens continue discussions surrounding these topics, and what the candidates will do to help, the issue of can convicted felons vote has been brought up.

It is an accepted thought in American society that convicted felons cannot vote. However, a few advocacy groups have come out to debunk this notion and help felons regain their right to vote.

The truth is that convicted felons are able to vote, once they finish their sentence (including probation and restitution), and adhere to their state’s guidelines for voter restoration.

According to the Campaign Legal Center, many states have some restrictions on felon voter rights, but most states restore those rights after the person completes their sentence. The center estimates that approximately 18 million Americans with past convictions are eligible to vote, but don’t know it.

In recent news, former NFL player and convicted felon Michael Vick was able to regain his right to vote, paying off all of his fines from his 2007 federal conviction from being involved in a dogfighting ring.

“It’s not an easy process to have your voting rights restored or retained,” Vick said. “You just have to take the initiative and be proactive.”

"In 2011 some of my friends and family members went to vote, and I was kind of naive to what my voting rights were. I was planning on going, and I found out that because I had a felony on my record, that I couldn’t vote. That was just one of the things that I did not know, you know -- was taken away from me once I was incarcerated and had a felony on my record.”

With his voter rights restored, Vick, and other Black athletes and artists, have formed More Than a Vote to fight against voter suppression and bring awareness to voter restoration.

Information provided by the National Conference of State Legislature shows:

  • In 16 states, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.

  • In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.

  • In 11 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) or require additional action before voting rights can be restored.

  • In the District of Columbia, Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.

In other headline news, billionaire and former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg raised over $16 million in an effort to restore voting rights to convicted felons in Florida, with the help of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

The organization estimates that Bloomberg’s efforts have already paid off monetary obligations for 32,000 felons.

Florida passed a law in 2018 reinstating voting rights for felons that dictated they could register only if they pay all fines, fees and restitution — sometimes totaling more than $1,000 — owed to the government.

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