Democrats Are Divided On Whether To Let Felons Vote In Prison

Americans favor letting people vote once they finish their sentences, but are much more hesitant about letting them vote while incarcerated.

Americans broadly support restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, but are less supportive of restoring the vote to those still serving their sentences ― a topic that drew renewed attention after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) championed the idea of allowing currently imprisoned people to vote. Other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have expressed more reticence about the idea.

Americans say, 68% to 21%, that they support restoring the voting rights of individuals who have committed a felony after they have completed their entire sentences. They’re about split on restoring the rights of those currently on probation or parole, but say, 54% to 31%, that they oppose restoring the voting rights of current prisoners.

Democrats mostly support restoring the rights of felons who’ve completed their sentences and also those currently on probation or parole, but they’re close to evenly divided when it comes to those still in prison.


A 60% majority of Republicans support restoring the rights of felons who’ve completed their sentences, although fewer than a fifth think the currently imprisoned should also get the vote.

Although many candidates seeking the Democratic nomination favor restoring voting rights once people are released from prison, Sanders is the only candidate of the group to say people should be able to vote while they are incarcerated. Voting is a right, Sanders has said, and not one you can lose if you are convicted of a felony, even a heinous one.

Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) both say they are open to the idea of allowing people to vote in prison. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro support letting nonviolent offenders vote in prison. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) told HuffPost nonviolent drug offenders should be able to vote in prison.

Just two states in the country, Maine and Vermont, allow people to vote while they’re in prison. The remaining 48 states have different policies; some states allow people to vote once they’re released from prison, while others require them to complete probation and parole. Three states ― Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia ― permanently bar felons from voting unless their voting rights are restored by the governor. If you have a felony conviction, figuring out whether you’re allowed to vote is extremely confusing.

The results of the survey are relatively similar to what was found in one taken last year but suggest there may have been a very modest uptick in willingness to support voter reform measures. The share of Americans who support restoring voting rights to those still imprisoned, for instance, is 7 percentage points higher than it was in March of 2018.

As was the case last year, even Americans who generally support the idea of restoring voting rights are divided on the specifics. The poll finds that 54% of those who support restoring voting rights at the end of a sentence think that should happen automatically, while 40% say the felons should have to go through some sort of process. And even among Americans who favor restoring voting rights, 46% say certain crimes, such as murder or sexual offenses, should make former felons ineligible, compared to the 38% who say the option should be open to everyone.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using 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 May 6-7 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.

Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community