Disenfranchisement, Democracy, and Incarceration: A Legislative End to Felony Disenfranchisement in United States Prisons

“I believe that everyone, and I mean everyone, deserves their right [to vote].” Antonio Lancaster, voting for the first time in the November 2020 election, has been incarcerated since 2003 following an armed robbery conviction. At age nineteen, he lost his right to vote before he was ever able to use it. Then, Lancaster became one the first Washington D.C. residents to cast an absentee ballot while incarcerated following the July 2020 passage of emergency criminal justice reform legislation. This legislation ended the practice of felony disenfranchisement—the practice of barring an individual who has been convicted of a felony from casting a vote in political elections — in the District of Columbia. Because D.C. has no federal prison, residents convicted of felonies are sent to federal prisons across the country. Lancaster, currently serving his sentence in a Kansas prison, noted that fellow inmates are jealous of his reinstated right to vote: “When we talk about [voting], they’re like, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’”

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