When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that expanded voting rights, he angered a group who were not able to vote for him in the first place: felons still serving prison time, probation or parole. Maryland, like every state but Maine and Vermont, restricts the voting rights of felons. Some states bar felony inmates from voting, others extend the prohibition to offenders who are on parole or probation. Several states withhold voting rights from people who have been out of the criminal justice system for years. Stateline reports that more states are considering restoring the right to vote to felons, with supporters saying that once their debt to society is paid they should be allowed to exercise a fundamental right. This year, 18 states considered legislation to ease voting restrictions on felons; Wyoming was the only state to pass such a bill. That's up from 13 states that considered bills last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Advocates for restoring voting rights argue there are practical reasons for granting felons a say in elections: Voting is an important step in becoming an active and productive citizen — and in reducing recidivism. “[Disenfranchisement] is a very counterproductive message to send out,” said Marc Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for loosening the restrictions. “Recidivism is high. It should be the interest of the community to have a person reintegrated and connected with a positive institution.” An estimated 5.9 million felons will be unable to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Several candidates from both parties have expressed support for restoring voting rights to many of them. In a tight race, felons with restored voting rights could very well tip the scale in some states.