New York state law says that 45,000 parolees can't vote, reports CityLimits.org. They're some of the estimated 5.3 million people nationwide with past felony convictions who are barred from voting after their release from correctional facilities, says the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group. Among the 35 states with such provisions, Kentucky permanently strips the voting rights of those who have completed serving prison sentences while Virginia reviews appeals on a case-by-case basis. Others – including Delaware, Wyoming, and Nebraska – require waiting periods of two to five years before voting rights are restored to people convicted of some offenses.
Restrictive voting laws for ex-offenders are increasingly being modified or reversed. “The news is good and, notably, has been a bipartisan effort,” says Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project. Support for the changes is not universal. “Criminal studies show the high rate of recidivism for people on parole. These laws make perfect sense,” says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank in Virginia focused on racial issues. Clegg says a significant number of jurisdictions remain opposed to overhauling voting bans on people convicted of felonies. “Despite political pressure from groups like the Sentencing Project, which is trying to make it easier for more ex-felons and even felons to vote, everyone doesn't support their agenda,” he said, citing restrictive measures in Utah, Kansas, and Massachusetts. In New York, with the backing of Gov. David Paterson, the climate is warming to parolees. A coalition of nonprofit groups ran an advertising campaign to alert those with criminal records to the rights they do have – like the fact that voting rights are fully restored upon completion of one's maximum sentence. Last Friday was the final day to register to vote in time for the November election.