89 Minn. L. Rev. 231 (2004-2005)
Voting - Not Quite a Fundamantal Right - A Look at Legal and Legislative Challenges to Felon Disfranchisement Laws

handle is hein.journals/mnlr89 and id is 247 raw text is: Note

Voting-Not Quite a Fundamental Right? A Look
at Legal and Legislative Challenges to Felon
Disfranchisement Laws
Angela Behrens*
Voting is a fundamental right in the United States, yet in
the 2004 presidential election, over five million people were un-
able to cast a vote because of a felony conviction at some point
in their lives.1 Felon disfranchisement laws remove the right to
vote based on a felony conviction. While disfranchisement laws
vary by state, the laws collectively account for the largest group
of American citizens unable to vote.2 The existence of these
laws therefore calls into question the notion of voting as a fun-
damental right.
The refusal of some states to extend the right to vote to
persons convicted of a felony-level offense has prompted calls
for reform. This Note explores both the legal and legislative
challenges to state felon disfranchisement laws, questioning
how the persistence of these laws squares with the notion of
voting as a fundamental right. Part I first discusses briefly the
progression of the right to vote toward near-universal status in
the United States before giving an overview of felon disfran-
chisement and the debates sparked by these laws. Part I also
presents some of the unsuccessful legal challenges to felon dis-
, J.D. Candidate 2005, University of Minnesota Law School; B.A. 2002,
University of Minnesota. The author would like to thank Andy Pratt, David
Schultz, Ryan Stai, and Chris Uggen for their helpful comments and sugges-
tions.
1. Christopher Uggen et al., Estimated Disenfranchised Felon Popula-
tion by State 2004 (2004) (unpublished statistics, on file with author); see also
Christopher Uggen & Jeff Manza, Democratic Contraction? Political Conse-
quences of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 67 AM. Soc. REV.
777, 797 (2002) (using the same methodology to estimate that 4.7 million peo-
ple were disfranchised for the 2000 election).
2. ALEXANDER KEYSSAR, THE RIGHT To VOTE: THE CONTESTED HISTORY
OF DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES 308 (2000). Felon disfranchisement
laws remove the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections.

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