Unlock the Vote

Monday, September 24, 2012

The right to vote is what makes a country a true democracy.  It is the most basic right Americans share.

Felony disenfranchisement is the set of policies and practices barring individuals with criminal convictions from the ballot box.  It is the most significant barrier to political participation for people with criminal records across the country.  5.3 million Americans are barred from voting due to criminal convictions. Of those, nearly four million are no longer incarcerated and are members of our communities.[i]

Wisconsin law bars individuals with felony convictions from voting while incarcerated or while on probation, parole or extended supervision.  This stops an estimated 62,000 citizens with felony convictions from voting.[ii]

Two thirds of these people live in the community, work and pay taxes, but are unable to participate in the political process.  These citizens are from all walks of life, men and women of all races, religions, and political backgrounds who have been deemed safe enough to return to our communities but continue to be barred from the ballot box. Ninety-seven percent of Wisconsin’s incarcerated population will one day be released from prison.[iii] We must encourage these individuals to participate in their communities, not prevent them from doing so.

Twenty states have less restrictive felony disenfranchisement policies than we do, including our neighbors: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.[iv] Wisconsin’s current policy of disenfranchising citizens after their release is a financial drain on all of us.  It does nothing to enhance public safety, and is an impediment to democracy. There is support from voters throughout the state for reforming this unfair practice.   Wisconsin should change its law in favor of greater democracy.

Restoring the right to vote to people with felony convictions who have already served their sentences is fundamentally about freedom, fairness, and democracy. This is a non-partisan issue. The campaign to restore voting rights to Wisconsin citizens who have been released from incarceration is part of a national movement to bring more Americans into the political process. It is supported by the majority of Wisconsin voters. It’s time for Wisconsin to Restore the Vote.

Download a PDF of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s Report, Unlock the Vote Wisconsin, or visit our YouTube channel to see a series of videos that the ACLU produced on this topic.  If you have a criminal conviction, and want to know your rights, download a printable PDF of our voter information sheet, or view it online here.



[i] Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, Locked Out: Felon Disfranchisement and American Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.), 76.

[ii] Uggen and Manza, 250.

[iii] Mary Kay Kollat, Reentry: A Bridge to Success (Wisconsin Department of Administration, 2008), 4.

[iv] Laleh Ispahani, Rachel Bloom, Nicole Kief, Right to Vote: A Campaign to End Felony Disfranchisement, (Washington D.C. American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, 2008) http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/votingrights/righttovote_20080125.pdf, 32. Also Kevin Kennedy Testimony, August 2009.