The United States stands alone on the global stage in terms of the scope and restrictiveness of its felony disenfranchisement laws. In 48 states and the District of Columbia, persons who are incarcerated for a felony offense are not eligible to vote while in prison. In 35 of these states, persons on probation and/or parole for a felony conviction are also ineligible to vote, and in 10 of these states a felony conviction can result in the loss of voting rights for life. As of yearend 2004, nearly 5.3 million Americans were unable to vote as a result of a current or prior felony conviction. African Americans, who are disproportionately represented at each stage of the criminal justice system, from arrest and conviction through sentencing and incarceration, have acutely experienced the impact of this policy. This results in a dilution of the political voice of many communities of color and further alienates neighborhoods with high-density incarceration and correctional supervision, thereby exacerbating pre-existing inequalities.
Because the majority of persons under correctional supervision are male -- 93% of persons in prison, 77% of persons on probation, and 88% of persons on parole -- much of the attention given to felony disenfranchisement policy has focused upon its impact on males. While the effect of this policy among African American males has been widely documented -- in some states one in four black males is denied the right to vote due to a felony conviction -- less is known about the impact on women, particularly women of color. In an effort to provide a greater understanding of the wide-ranging impact of felony disenfranchisement policy, this briefing paper analyzes existing data to construct estimates of felony disenfranchisement rates for women.