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February 10, 2021 BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Restoration of Voting Rights: The Elimination of Felony Disenfranchisement

The right to vote is one of the basic fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States.  Although the 15th Amendment provides that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, 48 states have felony disenfranchisement laws, which disproportionately impact African Americans. As of 2020, an estimated 5.17 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. 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.

There is growing momentum to dismantle felony disenfranchisement and restore voting rights across the country. Maine and Vermont are the only states in which those convicted of a felony offense never lose their right to vote. In July 2020, Washington, DC joined Maine and Vermont in allowing those convicted of a felony to vote while incarcerated. Several other states have recently changed their laws to provide automatic restoration of the right to vote upon release from prison. In November 2020, California voters passed Proposition 17 which amended the state constitution to allow those on parole for a felony conviction to vote.

In August 2020, the ABA passed a resolution urging federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to:

  1. repeal laws that disenfranchise persons based upon criminal conviction;

  2. restore voting rights to those currently and formerly incarcerated, including those on probation, parole, or any other community-based correctional program;

  3. assure that no person convicted of crime is disenfranchised because of nonpayment of a fine, court costs, restitution or other financial obligations imposed as a result of a criminal conviction.

This panel of experts discusses the history of felony disenfranchisement, why it is a racial justice and voter suppression issue, and the legal and policy strategies being used to restore voting rights across the country.


  • Eliza Sweren-Becker, Counsel, Voting Rights & Elections Program, Brennan Center for Justice
  • Nicole D. Porter, Director of Advocacy, The Sentencing Project
  • James Jeter, Founder, Dwight Hall Civic Allyship Initiative, Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall at Yale


  • Jaime Hawk, Legal Strategy Director, WA Campaign for Smart Justice, ACLU of Washington; Co-Chair, Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Committee, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center for Human Rights, ABA Center for Public Interest Law, ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities, ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, ABA Diversity and Inclusion Center, ABA Law Student DivisionABA Section of State and Local Government Law, ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section, ABA Young Lawyers Division


Transcript: Restoration of Voting Rights: The Elimination of Felony Disenfranchisement

ABA policy on voting rights restoration

Locked Out 2020: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction

Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws Across the United States

Voting in Jails

Voting Behind Bars: An Argument for Voting by Prisoners

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