Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) spoke out against felon disenfranchisement Saturday at the Heartland Forum in Storm Lake, Iowa, which HuffPost co-sponsored, but she declined to say whether she believes voting rights should be given to people serving out prison sentences.
“Once someone pays their debt to society, they’re out there expected to pay taxes, expected to abide by the law, they’re expected to support themselves and their families,” she said. “I think that means they’ve got a right to vote.”
“While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about,” she concluded.
While many Democrats running for president have expressed support for automatically restoring voting rights once someone is released from prison, none have said that felons should be allowed to vote in prison. Just two states, Maine and Vermont, allow people with felonies to vote while they are incarcerated. In Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, prisoners could vote while they were incarcerated until 2000 when voters approved a constitutional amendment stripping felons of the right to vote.
Several countries have narrower restrictions on which people can’t vote while they’re incarcerated. But The United States is among a very small group of countries that continues to disenfranchise people once they are released from prison.
There are an estimated 4.7 million people in the United States disenfranchised by a felony conviction. The policies surrounding felon disenfranchisement vary widely by state, but many have roots in the Jim Crow south, where they were implemented as a way to keep black people from voting after the Civil War.
In recent years, several states have revisited their policies, which went under the radar for decades, and eased the path for people to vote once they are released from prison. Most notably, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that eliminated the state’s lifetime ban for people convicted of a felony ― a change that could affect up to 1.4 million people.
Iowa is one of three states that permanently disenfranchises people with felony convictions, but Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) wants to amend the state’s constitution to change that. Lawmakers are currently considering a proposal to allow people with felonies to vote once they complete their sentences, though it would need to pass in two consecutive sessions of the legislature before getting sent to voters for approval. Just over 52,000 Iowans are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, according to a 2016 estimate.
In New Mexico, where Democrats control the legislature and the governor’s mansion, lawmakers were considering a bill earlier this year that would have allowed people with felonies to vote in prison. The provision was stripped from the bill before it made it to the floor for a vote earlier this month.
Lawmakers in New Jersey, where there is also a Democratic governor and legislature, are also considering a similar proposal to let people with felonies vote in prison.