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Stay in Faith, A better life is on the horizon

Social Justice Blog

Social Justice Blog

Relationship of Voting and Criminal Activity

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 7:10 PM

 Last month Attorney General Eric Holder made a bold request for States to rescind their disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated persons.

Unfortunately the root of this practice is justified to those who do not believe in second chances or the Christian power of forgiveness and redemption.  It is the law and can be justified under the law. Never mind the toll of a lifetime of condemnation, nor the stigma of never being welcomed to return to full citizenry. Regardless of this aspect, the action of enfranchising ex-felons begs the question of whether allowing ex-felons the right to vote encourages law abiding behavior. 

Uggenand Manza (2004) examined whether voting had an effect on recidivism. Their study showed that 95 % of those who voted were not engaged in criminal behavior, while 88% of non-voters were not engaged in any criminal behavior.  There is a significant difference in pro-social behavior between voters and non-voters with regard to arrest and incarceration.   “Those who vote are less likely to be arrested and incarcerated and less likely to report committing a range of property and violent offenses (p 208)”.  When examining arrest and rearrests (recidivism), they found that approximately 27% of non-voters were rearrested while less than half of 27%, (12%) of voters were rearrested.

In Florida, Kentucky, and Iowa disenfranchisement laws do not allow ex-felons to ever participate in the voting process. The right to vote is permanently lost which results in a lifetime of stigma.  The right to vote after the completion of their sentences is extended to ex-felons in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas.  These States do not allow persons on probation or parole to participate in the political process.  Maine is the only state that allows incarcerated persons to participate in the political activity of voting.  All other states may extend voting rights to probationers or parolees under certain conditions.

“The act of voting manifests the desire to participate as a law-abiding stakeholder in a larger society (Uggen and Manza, p213)”.  Unfortunately, Attorney General Holder’s request may not cause States to reconsider to felony disenfranchisement laws and remove the stigma of societal outcasts. There is a large body of work (Adelman, L. 2013; Alexander, M. (2010;Conyers Jr., J. 2013; Martensen, K. 2012) which relates the disenfranchisement of ex-felons to punishment, politics, and the perpetuation of poverty.


Adelman, L. (2013). What the sentencing commission ought to be doing about reducing mass incarceration. Michigan Journal of Race and Law, 18(2),295-316.

Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color blindness.  New York, NY: The New Press.

Conyers Jr., J. (2013). The Incarceration Explosion. Yale Law & Policy Review, 31(2),377-387.

Dawson-Edwards, C. ( 2008 ) Enfranchising convicted felons: Current research on opinions towards felon voting rights. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 46 (3/4), 13-29.

Martensen, K. (2012). The price that US minority communities pay: mass incarceration and the ideologies that fuel them. Contemporary Justice Review, 15(2),211-222. doi:10.1080/10282580.2012.681165

Manza, J., Brooks, C., and Uggen, C. (2004). Public attitudes toward felon disenfranchisement in the United States. Public Opinion Quarterly, 68(2)275-286. DOI: 10.1093

Uggen, C., &Manza, J. (2004). Voting and subsequent crime and arrest: Evidence from a community sample. Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev., 36, 193.

Zetlin-Jones, D.(2006). Right to remain silent? What the voting rights act can and should say about felony disenfranchisement. Boston College Law Review, 47 (2) 411-454



All rights reserved Copyright © 2014 Jamillah M. Grant





Categories: Reducing Recidivism