States vary in their treatment of the voting rights of convicted felons through incarceration, probation, parole, and beyond. A few states permit even incarcerated felons to vote, while others rescind the right permanently, with most states’ policies located between those extremes. This paper analyzes the relationship among voter turnout, election outcomes, and levels of felon disenfranchisement by state. The results show a pattern of divergence around the 2000 election before which turnout, disenfranchisement, crime rates, and Republican or Democratic success in elections were unrelated and since which strong correlations are found. Disenfranchisement rates no longer bear a significant relationship to crime rates, and states won by Republicans have both lower overall turnout and higher levels of ineligible felons in the voting-age population. Partisan control of state legislatures does not predict these patterns, but there is a strong regional component to the data with disenfranchisement notably higher in Southern states regardless of partisan control. Overall the data support a need for further research on the disparate treatment of felon voting rights among states which may be contributing to broader trends emerging in political science research of a growing relationship between lower voter turnout and Republican electoral success.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.
Human and Animal Rights Statements
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
The research and manuscript were conducted and prepared in accordance with all ethical guidelines stated in the Social Justice Research “Instruction for Authors.”
Aldrich, J. H., & Rohde, D. W. (1997). The transition to Republican rule in the House: Implications for theories of congressional politics. Political Science Quarterly,112(4), 541–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bechtel, M. M., Hangartner, D., & Schmid, L. (2015). Does compulsory voting increase support for leftist policy? American Journal of Political Science onlinefirst. doi:10.1111/ajps.12224.Google Scholar
Behrens, A., Uggen, C., & Manza, J. (2003). Ballot manipulation and the ‘Menace of Negro Domination’: Racial threat and felon disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850–2002. American Journal of Sociology,109(3), 559–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burch, T. (2010). Did disfranchisement laws help elect President Bush? New Evidence on the turnout rates and candidate preferences of Florida’s ex-felons. Political Behavior,34(1), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burmila, E. (2014). Surge and decline: The impact of changes in voter turnout on the 2010 Senate elections. Congress & The Presidency, 41(3), 289–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citrin, J., Schickler, E., & Sides, J. (2003). What if everyone voted? Simulating the impact of increased turnout in senate elections. American Journal of Political Science,47(1), 75–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DeNardo, J. (1980). Turnout and the vote: The joke’s on the democrats. American Political Science Review,74(2), 406–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Druckman, J., Peterson, E., & Slothuus, R. (2013). How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. American Political Science Review,107(1), 57–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Meredith, M., Biggers, D. R., & Hendry, D. J. (2015). Can incarcerated felons Be(Re)integrated into the political system? Results from a field experiment. American Journal of Political Science,59(4), 912–926. doi:10.1111/ajps.12166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldman, D. S. (2004). The modern-day literacy test?: Felon disenfranchisement and race discrimination. Stanford Law Review,57(2), 611–655.Google Scholar
Hajnal, Z., Lajevardi, N., & Nielson, L. (2017). Voter Identification laws and the suppression of minority votes. The Journal of Politics. doi:10.1086/688343.
Harvey, A. E. (1994). Ex-felon disenfranchisement and its influence on the black vote: The need for a second look. University of Pennsylvania Law Review,142(3), 1145–1189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Highton, B., & Wolfinger, R. E. (2001). The political implications of higher turnout. British Journal of Political Science,31(1), 179–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Karlan, P. S. (2004). Convictions and doubts: Retribution, representation, and the debate over felon disenfranchisement. Stanford Law Review,56(5), 1147–1170.Google Scholar
Lijphart, A. (1997). Unequal participation: Democracy’s unresolved dilemma. American Political Science Review,91(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Manza, J., Brooks, C., & Uggen, C. (2004). Public attitudes toward felon disenfranchisement in the United States. Public Opinion Quarterly,68(2), 275–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Manza, J., & Uggen, C. (2006). Locked out: Felon disenfranchisement and American democracy. London: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miles, T. J. (2004). Felon Disenfranchisement and voter turnout. Journal of Legal Studies,33(1), 85–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, A. J., & Deckard, N. (2015). Felon disenfranchisement laws and the feedback loop of political exclusion: The case of Florida. Journal of African American Studies,20(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (1988). Why Americans don’t vote. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar