When an individual is disenfranchised their right to a particular privilege or inherent right has been revoked. Disenfranchisement may happen by discriminatory practices or prescribed by law towards a group of people or an individual. Commonly, disenfranchisement happens when an individual’s right to vote is revoked.

Felon Disenfranchisement

In some states, an individual who has been convicted of a felony may be eligible to have their right to vote revoked. Out of the 50 states including the District of Columbia, there are two states, Maine and Vermont, that place no restrictions on felons seeking to vote. Forty-eight states including District of Columbia have prescribed laws to deny voting rights to individuals who are parolees, inmates, felon probationers, ex-felons. It is important to note that not all states will deny individuals who belong to one or more of the above groups. For instance, in California felon disenfranchisement solely applies to inmates and parolees and in Florida, felon disenfranchisement applies to any individual who belongs to one or more of the above groups.

Restoration of Voting Rights

Many states will allow voting rights to be restored upon release. The process to have voting rights restored upon release is different in every state. In some states, the procedure for getting voting rights restored may be as simple as registering to vote, while other states may have a lengthier process.

Currently, there are twelve (12) American states that will never restore past offenders their right to vote. However, many of the twelve states will allow past offenders an opportunity to apply for clemency. When a clemency is granted it may restore civil rights or pardon the past offense. Once clemency is granted the past offender will have a right to vote. If a clemency request is revoked then voting rights will not be restored.


A clemency is a term used to describe a reduction of the penalties for a particular individual who is convicted of a crime. Clemency can be granted by either the executive branch of the state government or the executive branch of the federal government. A clemency granted for a state crime will be granted by the state governor, advisory board, or a combination of both. A clemency granted for a federal crime will be granted by the president. It is important to note that granting a clemency is solely up to the discretion of the executive(s) in charge. Their decision to grant clemency is not based on any specific laws, guidelines or reasoning involved. Specifically, a clemency approval or denial may be based on a number of different factors. Once a decision has been reached the decision will not be overturned by any other agency or branch of government. If a clemency is denied the decision is not able to be appealed. However, another application for clemency may be submitted. Many states have indicated a specified term of years before another application for clemency may be submitted and accepted. If clemency is granted it may take the form of either a pardon, commutation of sentence, or reprieve.

Forms of Clemency


A pardon given from an executive branch of the state of the federal government will lessen the punishment for a crime or set aside the punishment. It is an act that essentially forgives the past or current offender of a crime. A past offender will usually seek a pardon to have certain rights restored. While a current offender will usually seek a pardon for immediate release. Not all applications for pardons are granted, but applications that are granted will not automatically erase the past or current convictions. Pardons serve a purpose to show that the individual has been forgiven of the crime. In other words, the crime will remain on the individual’s criminal history, but it will show the conviction has received pardon and is forgiven.

Commutation of Sentence

A commutation of sentence is granted to reduce a sentence imposed upon conviction. It could be also be used to cancel or reduce the amount of a fine or restitution order. Some states allow a commutation of a sentence without the offender's consent while other states require an application. For instance, if an offender is sentenced to death their sentence may be commuted without needing their consent.

Since a commutation of sentence acts as a reward for good behavior while serving time it is usually granted with required conditions. If the offender violates a condition of their commuted sentence there is a chance that the commuted sentence would be void. In the case of a void commuted sentence, the offender will be entitled to due process.


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A reprieve temporarily suspends a current prison sentence to release an offender. Though a reprieve will allow an offender to be temporarily released it does not modify the term of the original sentence or forgive the crime. For example, an offender with a terminally ill close family member may be granted a reprieve to visit their family member. Reprieves are granted by different authority depending on the state.