Recently, criminal justice reform has become the buzzword for people across the political spectrum. The prosecution of certain groups and their related sentencing disparities are real. But what about the continuing loss of the “felon’s” rights once their sentence has been completed. Can felons get their voting rights back in Georgia?
As of 2018, according to the Prison Policy Institute, Georgia had the largest correctional supervision population in the country. We had over 404,000 people interacting with our Department of Corrections. That is approximately 4% of our total population. That means one out of every twenty-five people has a relationship with the Georgia Department of Corrections. This number has led to tremendous disenfranchisement. But a lot of the disenfranchisement comes from a lack of information being provided to those affected (or the general public).
Amongst all the noise in the media regarding criminal justice reform, it’s time we properly understand what the laws and regulations are as they relate to felons who have completed their sentence. Most people believe that a felon’s civil rights are automatically lost for the rest of their lives. While that may be a correct statement in a handful of states, that is not the case in Georgia.
In Georgia, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Rule 475-3-.10(6), automatically reinstates a felon’s right to vote after they have finished their full sentence (to include incarceration, probation, and payment of any fines/restitution). The remainder of the felon’s civil and political rights, aside from possessing a firearm, can also be restored upon meeting certain criteria. Two years after the felon’s sentence is completed, they can file an application to fully restore all their civil and political rights. When it comes to firearms, the waiting period is five years after the completion of the full sentence.
While Georgia may not be setting the gold standard in combating felony disenfranchisement, only two states allow incarcerated felons to vote (Maine and Vermont), sixteen states all voting after being released from incarceration and three additional states allow for the right to vote after being released from parole.
However, from a historical Southern perspective, Georgia is doing far better than most of its neighbors. Specifically, we are more enlightened than twelve other states in that we allow for automatic voting rights to felons after the completion of their entire sentence (i.e. parole, probation and payment of fines/fees/restitution).
Is Georgia perfect? No. But if people want to make a more significant change, they need to take the time to understand their rights, then register to vote, and finally to go out and actually vote. Otherwise, we are just complaining about a problem we can do something about.
About the author:
Manny Arora is a well-recognized criminal defense attorney, RED Board member, and criminal justice reform, advocate. He is a founder of the Arora Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia.