An initiative on the Rhode Island ballot in November would allow felons to vote after they leave prison. Rhode Island is one of several states where lawmakers and advocacy groups are working to change laws that deny many felons the right to vote, reports USA Today. An estimated 5.3 million people cannot vote because of a felony conviction, says Ryan King of the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C. Thirty-six states deny that right to felons while they’re on parole, and 31 of them also bar voting by felons on probation.
King says that in some states, up to 30 percent of African-Americans are barred from voting. “That’s a significant portion of the population not being represented by their state or federal legislators,” he says. Nebraska recently enacted legislation restoring voting rights to felons two years after they complete sentences. The state previously had a lifetime ban. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack last year signed an order restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, including probation or parole, or received early release. Some lawmakers believe restrictions should stay. “I don’t believe we need to have a voting bloc that comes out of prison angry at the sheriff’s department” and the prosecutor’s office,” says Tennessee state Rep. Gerald McCormick.