CAN CONVICTED FELONS VOTE IN MASSACHUSETTS?
As we continue to witness the 2016 Presidential primaries with an eye toward each party's convention this Summer, I am often asked an interesting question:
May convicted felons vote in Massachusetts?
The quick answer is "Yes", but that does come with a caveat.
Section one of Chapter 51 of the Massachusetts General Laws governs who may be eligible to vote within the Commonwealth. The statute provides that
[e]very citizen eighteen years of age or older, not being a person under guardianship or incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction, may have his name entered on the list of voters in such city or town, and may vote therein in any such election....
The qualification does not prohibit one convicted of a felony from voting, but simply restricts one currently incarcerated in a correctional facility. Additionally, the incarceration must be "due to a felony conviction", and not because one is detained during the pre-trial process. Of course, one who is held on bail may not have the physical ability to appear at a polling place to cast their ballot, but there is no prohibition from them voting should they have the means to do so. Therefore - at least in theory - one who is being held on bail may make arrangements with their city or town to cast an absentee ballot.
Pursuant to the statute, once a convicted felon is released from custody, they may regain their right to vote. Every state has their own laws governing voting eligibility, and indeed, there are some states where convicted felons suffer a revocation of their voting rights. But the Massachusetts legislators have deemed the right to participate in the democratic process so sacred that they are not willing to include voting as a collateral consequence to a felony conviction.
So the next time you think about skipping an election, or complain that standing in line to cast a ballot is too inconvenient, give some thought to the vast membership in the democratic process that citizens of Massachusetts enjoy.