The United State has one of the highest numbers of people unable to vote due to incarceration. When compared to other leading nations, America remains one of the most restrictive on the issue of allowing those in prison for serious crimes to vote.
Reports from D.C.-based Sentencing project, Marc Mauer of Washington, over 6 million people were disenfranchised in this election because they were locked up with felony convictions.
The right to vote is generally known as a franchise. It is a right that everyone should enjoy as long as certain requirements are met. In most states in the US, felons are denied this right. Maine however, tows a different line.
Maine is not like most states when it comes to the right of felons to vote after completing their sentence or while still in jail. Felons have never been denied their voting rights since the creation of the state more than 180 years ago.
Maine and Vermont have the same stance of tolerance towards the highly controversial topic. Interestingly, both states have never placed restrictions on the voting rights of felons after release from prison.
The ban on felon voting is majorly associated with states having a high population of blacks. Most of these state bans came up during the late 1860s and 1870s, during which time; the fifteenth amendment was made that guaranteed the right of black Americans to vote.
Maine, being a state not having a large population of blacks, did not go along with the other states that placed bans on felon voting rights.
Felon voting Law in Maine in 2023
In Maine, voting rights for all citizens, with the inclusion of incarcerated people are duly provided for in the state constitution. Past attempts made in the legislature to exclude felons convicted of serious crimes have all failed.
Some have argued that stopping felons from voting serves as retribution for their crimes, and also a way of protecting the purity of the ballot box.
While these arguments hold sway in some other states, the Maine parliament has chosen to think differently and persist on their current stand. There is currently no strong opposition in Maine against felons retaining their rights to vote.
The issue of sustaining the rights of inmates to vote was revisited just last year by the legislature, and they opted to continue allowing inmates to vote.
Elections in Maine are guided by rules as in every other state. To register to vote, more importance is placed on your residency than on whether or not you’re in jail. To register, you must be a US citizen, who is at least 17 years old with clear indications that you’ll be 18 years old at the time of the election. However, at 17 years, you are eligible to vote in primary elections.
You must also maintain an established voting residence in the area you seek to register. This area could be the city, town, or locality where you live.
Felons serving time in a state correctional facility or a county jail can register to vote in Maine as long as it is in the same area where they had established residency in the past. This must be a place considered a fixed residence, or a principal home. This should be the residence they plan to return to upon release from incarceration.
How Felons vote in Maine
Inmates are encouraged to vote in most correctional facilities in Maine, by corrections officials. Volunteers are majorly relied upon to register inmates for elections. Voting advocacy organizations such as the NAACP and League of Women Voters have held voter registration drives in prisons in partnership with the corrections departments.
While some inmates are happy to still be a part of the political process in their states and country, others are indifferent and don’t bother to exercise their rights from jail.
During elections, incarcerated people vote by an absentee ballot in their last place of residence; therefore, their votes do not count as votes from the town that houses the prison when they are. This means they cannot influence local elections with bloc votes.
See also: How to Register to Vote in Maine
Barriers to Felon voting
While felon voting is generally accepted in Maine, it also faces some major internal and external obstacles.
Inmates are not allowed access to the internet and are not supplied with news about the places they used to live in. They are basically cut off from the world they left behind. This also means that they are left uninformed about the political happenings and developments in their previous homes.
They are restricted from campaigning for candidates, displaying posters, and indulging in other forms of political partisanship. This really reduces their political participation and tends to dull the political drive amongst inmates.
Volunteers and experts who attempt to encourage felons to vote suspect that very few actually do so. There are no records, and nobody keeps track of inmate voting/registration, so comprehensive statistics on the participation and political ideologies of inmates are unavailable.
Election officials in Maine count the votes of inmates alongside other absentee ballots; hence, the number of incarcerated people that vote is not specifically tallied.
Restoring a Felon’s voting right in Maine
Felons in some states have to go through certain processes to regain their right to vote when they’ve been released. In Delaware, felons remain restricted from voting for five years after release. Similarly, the state of Kentucky requires a released felon to take action before regaining the right to vote.
However, in Maine, a felon need not restore their voting right once they’ve served their time and have been released.
This is because; they never lost the right to vote in the first place. They still retain their right to vote in both primary and general elections whether as inmates or when they’re out on parole.
The right to vote in elections in the state of Maine is made available to all. Being a felon will not deprive you of this right. Felons still get to vote in elections through absentee ballot. While there are limitations to full political involvement, felons still get a say in who gets into power.