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I am not familiar with USA laws, but I saw that Maine and Vermont are the only states where felons never lose their right to vote. Is this true? Does that include all elections (I.e., local, state, federal)? Are felons in other states not allowed to vote in any type of election?

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  • Reminds me of a time when Michael Ignatieff came to the university where I was an undergrad when he was campaigning for PM of Canada. I asked him whether felons should be able to vote, and he answered, "I believe in the whole turbulent democracy." Aug 25, 2023 at 16:23
  • Related (but not duplicate): International standards on prisoners' right to vote Aug 26, 2023 at 9:24

6 Answers 6

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The question is answered at the level of state law. It does seem that Maine and Vermont are the only two states where felons never lose voting rights (here, here, the latter pointing out that this also applies to Puerto Rico and Washington, DC). Following the second link, you see that states vary in their restrictions, for example Mississippi only restricts voting rights for certain Mississippi crimes, whereas Washington doesn't care about the source of the conviction, and voting disability is lifted once you are released from prison. Illinois includes misdemeanor convictions, but has the "while incarcerated" rule. No state appears to distinguish federal, state vs. local elections (elections are typically an multiple levels though local elections might be timed to not coincide with federal elections).

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    Do you know where do states count incarcerated people for redistricting? At the last place of residence or at the prision location?
    – Quinoba
    Aug 24, 2023 at 17:13
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    States do not do the counting, that is a federal task. See census.gov/content/dam/Census/programs-surveys/decennial/…. They are counted in their "usual residence", which is about where they live or stay "most of the time".
    – user6726
    Aug 24, 2023 at 18:39
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    @Quinoba: In recent years some states have started to count inmates at their last place of residence. But it's not a common practice (yet). See this NPR article for details. Aug 24, 2023 at 21:32
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    States might not do the counting but they do draw the district lines and prison population can play into how those get decided.
    – Joe W
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:47
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    I feel like counting the prison population as residing there, particularly if they aren't actually allowed to vote, starts to feel like some sort of 3/5 compromise kind of situation...
    – SCD
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:51
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It depends.

Short Answer:

They can't vote when in prison following conviction, detained under certain mental health provisions, or for a period of time following a conviction of an electoral offence if not in prison.

Long Answer:

The Representation of the People Act 1983 makes the following convicted offenders ineligible to vote in any parliamentary or local government election:

  • in prison after being convicted1 for any offence, apart from contempt of court section 3(1) and (2)

  • should be in prison but are "unlawfully at large" (i.e. an escapee or sentenced in absentia) section 3(1)

  • detained in a mental hospital, following various orders made under, e.g., the Mental Health Act 1983 section 3A(1) and (2)

Once released, e.g. on license or at the end of sentence, they are all eligible to vote apart from those:

  • convicted of corrupt or illegal practices ("electoral offences") who have to wait either 3 or 5 years following conviction, regardless of being in prison or not sections 61 - 62, 173(1) and (2)

1which does not include those who did not get a custodial sentence or have been denied bail so are remanded in custody i.e. in prison awaiting trial.


Although tagged , I have answered according to the LawSE Help Centre: "Even if you supply a jurisdiction tag, we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions ... please tag your answer using the tag markdown: [tag: some-tag]"

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Yes, people convicted of crimes may vote unless they have been specifically prohibited from doing so. This is exceedingly rare. According to a student law paper, this has only happened 178 times between 1978 and 2008, and may only be up to 5 years (StGb §45 Abs. 5, Translation).

This punishment can only be given for certain crimes: treason, attacking foreign diplomats and heads of state, recruiting for foreign militaries, giving bribes to politicians or voters, accepting bribes as a politician, or various crimes related to elections (search for "wählen oder zu stimmen" in the StGB or "vote on public matters" in the translation).

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    For persons living in the USA it may be interesting to know that criminals in Germany are even allowed to vote while they are in prison! Aug 25, 2023 at 12:44
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For elections into state-wide representative bodies (parliament, senate and European parliament), neither convinction or incarceration is an issue. In fact the relevant election laws make special provisions for voting in prisons and prisoners are counted as if their residence was in the prison. In all of those cases, the only limitations to voting rights are (247/1995, § 2; 62/2003, §5):

  • Limits to personal freedom in order to protect public health (i.e. mandatory quarantine for an infectious disease)
  • Court has found the person mentally incompetent to vote. Limitation of voting rights have to be explicitly mentioned in the court decision, so even if a person is deemed "unfit for all legal purposes" but voting rights are not explicitly mentioned, the person can still vote (official statement of the ministry )

Prisoners regularly vote and have decent, although not very high turnouts (30-50%)

For local elections, people in prison cannot vote (130/2000, §4; 491/2001, §4), presumably because in local elections all citizens have to vote physically in the place of their residence and cannot be registered to vote elsewhere.

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The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 3 says:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

The Supreme Court of Canada held that prohibiting incarcerated people from voting is an unjustified infringement of the right to vote. See Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), 2002 SCC 68. Thus, for elections of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly, conviction or incarceration has no legal effect on the entitlement to vote.

However, this guarantee does not extend to voting in municipal elections (Toronto (City) v. Ontario (Attorney General), 2021 SCC 34). Several provinces prohibit people who are serving a sentence of imprisonment in a penal or correctional institution from voting in municipal elections.

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Unless specifically sentenced to it (see below), persons convicted of a crime (felony) do not lose voting rights and can vote, even incarcerated (polling stations are set up at some correctional facilities and vote by proxy is available)


The only way a convict can be deprived of voting rights is by the application of the supplementary sentence of interdiction des droits civiques, civils et de famille or deprivation of civic, civil and family rights

This sentence can bar the sentenced from exercising :

1° Le droit de vote ;
2° L'éligibilité ;
3° Le droit d'exercer une fonction juridictionnelle ou d'être expert devant une juridiction, de représenter ou d'assister une partie devant la justice ;
4° Le droit de témoigner en justice autrement que pour y faire de simples déclarations ;
5° Le droit d'être tuteur ou curateur ; cette interdiction n'exclut pas le droit, après avis conforme du juge des tutelles, le conseil de famille entendu, d'être tuteur ou curateur de ses propres enfants.

  • The right to vote
  • Eligibilty to run for office
  • The right to exercise judicial functions or to be an expert in front of a jurisdiction, represent or assist any party before the courts
  • The right to be a guardian or trustee ; this interdiction doesn't exclude the right, after approval from the guardianship judge, the family council heard, to be a guardian or a trustee of their own child

The sentence can cover all the aforementioned rights or only some and can only last 10 years at most when convicted of a crime (felony) or 5 years in cases of délits (misdemeanor)


Apart from the only sanction of ineligibility (which is relatively routinely given by the Constitutional Court (around 2000 decisions by the court itself, 130 since June alone)), the whole one is a very rare sentence to be applied (a legal database research only came up with 150 published cases)

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