The Marshall Project

In Just Two States, All Prisoners Can Vote. Here's Why Few Do.

In Maine and Vermont, low literacy rates and little access to information means many inmates don’t exercise their right to cast ballots.

When Sen. Bernie Sanders championed voting rights for prisoners during a CNN town hall, he spotlighted an intensifying national debate about why going to prison means losing the right to vote.

In only two states, Maine and Vermont, all prisoners are eligible to vote. However, some prisoners in Mississippi, Alaska and Alabama can vote while incarcerated, depending on their convictions. Sanders is the sole presidential candidate to support the idea of prisoners voting, regardless of their crimes. His stance may reflect the reality that his home state of Vermont, and its neighbor Maine, have long-established procedures, and general public acceptance, of people voting from behind bars.

The idea is percolating in other states, however. In June, six of the 13 councilmembers in endorsed legislation that would let the city’s prisoners vote. Legislators in , , and introduced measures to allow prisoners to vote earlier this year. None succeeded, but several others states are making it easier for people to vote once they leave prison. In May, Nevada’s governor signed a bill that for parolees. And, last year, voters in Florida re-enfranchised nearly 1.5 million residents with felony convictions while Louisiana for nearly 36,000 people convicted of felonies. Lawmakers are still considering similar proposals in and

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