Voting in elections is a right that is given to all U.S. citizens when they turn 18 years old. Many people do not understand the importance of this right until it is taken away. When convicted of a felony crime by a U.S. Court and incarcerated, a person automatically loses the right to vote in an election. Once free from prison, a person must go through a special process to have voting rights restored. Each state has its own rules, but the Democracy Restoration Act, a new federal election standard, is in the works.
The process for restoration of voting rights is different in each state. Some states permanently bar some people with felony convictions from ever voting, while others allow voting after a release from prison.
Virginia and Kentucky do not allow felons voting rights unless the state approves it on a case-by-case basis. On the other hand Maine and Vermont allow all citizens to vote, even while they are in prison.
For most states, the newly freed prisoner must first establish a permanent residency in a particular state to begin the eligibility process. Once a home address is obtained, the ex-convict must submit written proof to the local election commission in the city or county showing a discharge from the correctional facility and if he or she is on any type of parole.
All fines and fees associated with the felony conviction must be paid. Prison release letters are available from the Court Support Services Division.
Upon release, the Department of Correction or your parole officer must explain how you can apply to register to vote.
Once you have submitted proof of your release from prison, you may go to your city/county's local election headquarters and register a new to vote. This registration process will ask you for your name, address, telephone number, party affiliation and previous registration information. It is a good idea to bring an extra copy of your prison release form just in case. If you are registering in a different city, county or state than the one where you were convicted, your old residence will be notified of the change in your voter status.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union help individuals with their voting rights restoration.
If you were convicted of an Election Law crime, you are not eligible to have your voter rights restored.