How does a felony conviction affect my voting rights?

A felony conviction impacts your voting rights.  Our criminal defense attorneys explain how this happens:

Voting rights vary throughout the United States.  In some states, a felony conviction renders you ineligible to vote for the rest of your life.  While this is certainly voter manipulation, thankfully Wisconsin felons maintain their eligibility to vote.  This blog post will explain exactly what you need to do before voting and how your criminal conviction impacts that right.

If you’re facing a felony charge, we encourage you to hire a top criminal defense lawyer for your defense.  While you can still vote (after completing your sentence), a felony conviction impacts many other important rights.  For the rest of your life you cannot possess a firearm.  You might have fines, time in prison, and time on supervision.  And finally, you might be embarrassed by the felon label you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life.  Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 and let’s figure out how to defend your case.

Can I vote in Wisconsin?

Voting rights and felony convictions:

Wisconsin felonies range between a Class I (3.5 years prison) to Class A (life in prison).  By statute, a felony is “a crime punishable by imprisonment in the Wisconsin state prisons” (Wis. Stat. sec. 939.60).  While all specific cases are different, you’ll know you’ve been convicted of a felony if two things happened:

  • Firstly, if you entered a plea to a felony charge; or
  • Secondly, if a jury/judge found you guilty of a felony at trial.

If you were convicted of a felony, you must wait to vote until you complete probation, parole, extended supervision, jail, and prison.  In other words you must not be on any form of supervision or serving any kind of a sentence for a felony charge.  Once that supervision/sentence has completed, you regain your voting rights.

While this may seem like a violation of your constitutional rights, it’s important to remember that criminal convictions regularly impact those rights.  For example, as a citizen you enjoy the right to liberty – but upon any kind of criminal conviction that liberty can be denied with incarceration.

How do I get my voting rights back?

Importantly, a governor pardon immediately restores the convict’s voting rights.  This is a unique route though, as most often pardons occur after the conclusion of supervision and a sentence.  A pardon restoring voting rights implies that the defendant was actively on supervision during the pardon.  The pardon itself ended the supervision.  Importantly, this does not usually occur because pardons typically require some sort of showing by the defendant of rehabilitation.  The defendant certainly strives to rehabilitate during supervision, but with a little more time there’s proof of it.

More commonly, the convicted individual simply completes his or her sentence/supervision.  Upon completion of the sentence, the state automatically restores the defendant’s voting rights.  The defendant does not to get any permission to vote again after completing his sentence.  Frequently the individual must simply register again to vote, as sometimes during an active period of ineligibility, municipal court clerks deactivate registrations.  This isn’t completely unusual – sometimes registration is necessary when non-felons move between communities.  It’s also certainly not a significant step and can usually be taken care of at polling locations on the day of an election.

Can I vote with a misdemeanor conviction?

Misdemeanors are crimes punishable by jail sentences.  Crimes that carry potential prison sentences are felonies.  Importantly, defendants generally do not lose their right to vote for misdemeanor convictions.

This means that even if you’re serving a misdemeanor sentence in jail, the facility must give you the opportunity to vote.  Generally facilities assign a specific correctional officer you must make contact with to vote.  Frequently this method of voting occurs with absentee ballots, since transporting the convict to a polling location will create security and logistical issues.

The only exception to this is if the defendant is convicted of misdemeanor treason or bribery.  Both of those charges limit the defendant’s ability to vote.

A felon votes in an election.
A convicted felon cannot vote while actively serving his sentence or on supervision. Contact our criminal defense attorneys for help.

Felony disenfranchisement across the United States

Felony disenfranchisement is the term used to describe felons losing their right to vote.  And throughout the United States this practice differs.  As of 2020, 5.2 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to voting laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felonies.

Maine, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico do not restrict voting for individuals convicted of felonies.  On the opposite end, three states permanently disenfranchise citizens: Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia.  Obviously all other states fall between the two extremes.

The denial of voting rights disproportionately impacts communities of color.  For example, Black Americans are four times as likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population.  A 2020 study found 1 in 7 Black adults in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming disenfranchised.

What happens when I vote while on probation?

While it certainly seems a bit serious for simply voting, you face the possibility of election fraud charges.  Voting while serving a sentence or on supervision is a Class I felony in Wisconsin, meaning the government can send you to prison for 3.5 years, make you pay $10,000.00 in fines, or both.

Van Severen Law Office, a criminal defense law firm:

Van Severen Law Office is a law firm based in Milwaukee, WI.  Our criminal defense attorneys dedicate 100% of their practices to defending individuals facing both misdemeanor and felony charges.  We certainly recognize the impact that a felony conviction will have on your life.  And importantly, we respect that.  We recognize how important your right to vote is.

And what’s the best way to keep your right to vote?  Avoid a felony conviction.  We’re already here, so we won’t tell you to not commit a felony.  But make the government satisfy its burden. File motions challenging illegal police and prosecutor conduct.  And protect your rights.  We’ll do that right alongside you, so call us now and let’s start fighting: (414) 270-0202.

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