Most Americans Favor Restoring Felons' Voting Rights, But Disagree On How

States have taken widely varying approaches.
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Most Americans think that criminals should be allowed to vote again after the justice system is done with them, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

Some 63 percent of the public say that individuals who’ve committed a felony should have their right to vote restored after they have entirely completed their sentences. Only 20 percent disagree.

Majorities across political lines are in favor of the idea, although levels of support vary. More than 80 percent of voters who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election support restoring voting rights, as do 58 percent of those who chose Donald Trump and 54 percent of nonvoters.

In 2016, over six million people couldn’t vote because of a felony conviction.

Even among proponents, there’s less consensus about what a program to restore voting rights should look like. States vary in how they go about it. Some automatically restore voting rights once someone is released from prison, while others require people to complete probation and parole as well. Four states ― Iowa, Kentucky, Florida and Virginia ― require the governor to act to restore voting rights.

The poll found that 53 percent of those who support restoring voting rights at the end of a sentence think that should happen automatically, while 40 percent say the felons should have to go through some sort of process. And Americans who favor restoring voting rights are split almost evenly on whether the option should be open to anyone who’s committed a felony (41 percent) or whether those who commit certain crimes, such as murder or sexual offenses, should be ineligible (43 percent).

There’s also less support for allowing felons still serving their sentences to vote, something that just two states ― Maine and Vermont ― currently permit. (There is pending legislation in New Jersey that would make it the third such state.) Just 24 percent of Americans think those in prison for a felony should be able to vote, and only 38 percent favor restoring voting rights for those on probation or parole.

The idea of disenfranchising criminals dates back to ancient Greece and Rome and has been practiced in the United States since its founding. Supporters say it preserves the sanctity of the ballot box and prevents those who have violated society’s laws from having a role in making them.

But critics say such laws were twisted to target African-Americans around the Civil War. In 2016, the Sentencing Project found that 1 in 13 black Americans was disenfranchised, a rate more than four times that of white Americans.

Voting rights activists have started to look at striking down felon disenfranchisement laws as a way to expand access to the ballot box. Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored voting rights on a case-by-case basis to over 172,000 felons who had done their time. Activists in Florida got a measure on the upcoming November ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons after they completed their sentences, a change that could affect over 1.5 million people in that state.

In February, a federal judge also found that Florida’s current system of restoring voting rights to felons was unconstitutional. The process requires that people wait a number of years after completing their sentence and then petition a board of top state officials to let them vote again.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, employing the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:


The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 16-18 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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