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The Curious Case of Felony Convictions: Voting Rights vs. Presidential Eligibility



In the intricate tapestry of democracy, the issue of felony convictions and their implications on civic participation has been a subject of heated debate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the divergent treatment of felony convictions concerning voting rights versus eligibility to run for the highest office in the land – the presidency of the United States.


In the United States, the disenfranchisement of individuals with felony convictions has a long and contentious history. Laws regarding felony disenfranchisement vary significantly from state to state, with some states imposing permanent voting bans on individuals with felony convictions, while others restore voting rights after completion of the sentence, including probation and parole. This patchwork of laws has led to significant disparities in voter participation and representation, disproportionately affecting communities of color.


The rationale behind felony disenfranchisement often revolves around notions of punishment, rehabilitation, and the preservation of the integrity of the electoral process. Proponents argue that individuals who have violated societal norms to such an extent should temporarily or permanently forfeit their right to participate in the democratic process. However, opponents argue that such measures perpetuate systemic injustices, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities and perpetuating cycles of disenfranchisement.


However, amidst this contentious landscape, drastic discrepancy arises when examining the eligibility requirements for the presidency. Unlike voting rights, which can be restricted or revoked based on felony convictions in many states, there is no explicit constitutional prohibition barring individuals with felony convictions from running for president. Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution outlines the qualifications for the presidency, stating that a candidate must be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years. Notably absent from these qualifications is any mention of criminal history.


This raises an important question: Why does the highest office in the land, arguably one of the most consequential positions in the world, not have similar restrictions regarding felony convictions as those imposed on voting rights?


One could argue that the founders, in their wisdom, intentionally omitted such restrictions to uphold the principles of democracy and individual rights. The presidency symbolizes the pinnacle of democratic governance, and disqualifying individuals based on past transgressions could be perceived as antithetical to the democratic ideals of second chances and redemption.


Moreover, imposing blanket restrictions on presidential eligibility based on criminal history could potentially disenfranchise millions of Americans who have served their time and reintegrated into society. It could also infringe upon the fundamental democratic principle that all citizens, regardless of their past mistakes, should have the opportunity to participate fully in the political process.


However, it seems unfair then to not apply those same arguments to voting rights. It is essential to acknowledge the complexities and nuances inherent in this issue. While felony disenfranchisement laws continue to face scrutiny and calls for reform, the absence of similar restrictions on presidential eligibility raises valid concerns about consistency and equity within the electoral system.


Fortunately, California has been reforming felony restrictions on voting under the Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment. Proposition 17 restored voting rights for all people on parole.


According to the California secretary of state, the following people may register and vote:

  • On parole

  • On probation

  • On mandatory supervision

  • On post-release community supervision

  • On federal supervised release


The following people still cannot register and vote:

  • Those convicted of a felony crime who are currently imprisoned in a state or federal prison or serving out a state prison sentence in a county jail or correctional facility

  • Those convicted of a felony crime (not a misdemeanor) who are currently in a county jail awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison


Ultimately, the debate surrounding felony convictions, voting rights, and presidential eligibility underscores the ongoing tension between punitive measures, rehabilitation, and the principles of democracy. As we continue to grapple with these issues, it is imperative to strive for a more equitable and inclusive electoral system that upholds both the integrity of the democratic process and the rights of all citizens, regardless of their past indiscretions.


If you have questions, we can help. Rios Bollinger Law is dedicated ensure people understand their rights, their options, and their community.

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