Dr. Brenda Williams, a physician in Sumter, S.C., regularly visits the county jail to register inmates awaiting trial to vote, says NPR. Williams says it’s important for them to become part of the community after they’re released. She thinks this will make them less likely to end up back behind bars. The Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project estimates that 5.3 million Americans (1 in 40 adults) were unable to vote due to a felony conviction in the 2008 elections.
State approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote — even while serving a prison sentence. In Kentucky and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote absent a pardon from the governor. The remaining 46 states have different approaches to the issue. South Carolina allows only inmates who are awaiting trial to vote. Once out of jail, felons can vote if they’re not on probation and parole. Some states don’t allow felons to vote at all. People think they’ve lost that right. Williams believes that just getting them registered gives the inmates something to strive for.