In the past 25 years, half the states have changed their laws and practices to expand voting access to people with felony convictions. Despite these important reforms, 5.2 million Americans remain disenfranchised, 2.3 percent of the voting age population.
This report is intended to update and expand our previous work on the scope and distribution of felony disenfranchisement in the United States. For the first time, we present estimates of the percentage of the Latinx population disenfranchised due to felony convictions. Although these and other estimates must be interpreted with caution, the numbers presented here represent our best assessment of the state of felony disenfranchisement as of the November 2020 election.
Our key findings include the following:
- As of 2020, an estimated 5.17 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has declined by almost 15 percent since 2016, as states enacted new policies to curtail this practice. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, 5.85 million in 2010, and 6.11 million in 2016.
- One out of 44 adults – 2.27 percent of the total U.S. voting eligible population–is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
- Individuals who have completed their sentences in the eleven states that disenfranchise at least some people post-sentence make up most (43 percent) of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling 2.23 million people.
- Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In three states – Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – more than 8 percent of the adult population, one of every thirteen people, is disenfranchised.
- We estimate that nearly 900,000 Floridians who have completed their sentences remain disenfranchised, despite a 2018 ballot referendum that promised to restore their voting rights. Florida thus remains the nation’s disenfranchisement leader in absolute numbers, with over 1.1 million people currently banned from voting – often because they cannot afford to pay court-ordered monetary sanctions or because the state is not obligated to tell them the amount of their sanction.
- One in 16 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 6.2 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.7 percent of the non-African American population.
- African American disenfranchisement rates vary significantly by state. In seven states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming – more than one in seven African Americans is disenfranchised, twice the national average for African Americans.
- Although data on ethnicity in correctional populations are still unevenly reported, we can conservatively estimate that over 560,000 Latinx Americans or over 2 percent of the voting eligible population are disenfranchised.
- Approximately 1.2 million women are disenfranchised, comprising over one-fifth of the total disenfranchised population.
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