Ex-offenders previously convicted on felony charges that served their time, may soon be able to vote in elections, as a few States have begun easing restrictions imposed on them, according to NBC News reports. Although specific voting restrictions vary from state to state, all have laws that ban ex-offenders from casting their ballot in elections. Some states have an application process where ex-offenders apply to have their voting rights restored, while others only allow the voting ban to be lifted after a specified period, which may be between five to seven years after release.

Virginia, Wyoming, Alabama, and Maryland have already begun relaxing laws imposed on ex-offenders in relation to their voting rights, and are considering lifting them altogether.

Locked out

According to the National Conference of Legislatures, a total of 14 states withdraw a convicted felon's right to vote while in prison, whereas 22 states deny offenders their voting right during post-release periods. This may include when an offender is on probation, or parole. In Virginia, voting rights for released ex-offenders can only be restored after a waiting period, an application process, or through a Governor's executive order. Before leaving office in 2018, Virginia's former Gov. Terry McAuliffe used his executive authority to reinstate voting right's for 173,000 ex-offenders.

McAuliffe told NBC News it was the right thing to do, as the released persons paid taxes, were back in society and should have a political voice.

Divided opinion

Conservative critics, like the president of the Center of Equal Opportunity, Roger Clegg, differ with former Gov. McAuliffe on the issue. According to Clegg, if a person is unable to follow the law, he/she should have no business contributing to lawmaking for others.

Clegg adds that the ex-offenders need to prove themselves first before their voting rights are reinstated, as opposed to a blanket lifting of the ban. He is of the opinion that each application should be considered individually.

A group that advocates for criminal justice reform based in D.C, The Sentencing Project, points out that the voting ban law stifles the political voice of minorities, especially African-Americans.

This is because statistics show that African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate of five times more than whites. Politicians, on the other hand, are cautious as an additional 6.1 million voters, the current number of ex-offenders barred from voting country-wide, which translates to 2.5 percent of the population, is enough to provide the swing vote in an election.