Eleven states strip some former prisoners of their right to vote forever. But most Americans don't support such a punishment even for felons, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Only 21 percent think that people convicted of felonies should permanently lose the right to vote. Fifty percent think felons should lose their voting rights only while they're serving their sentences, while 17 percent think they shouldn't lose their voting right at all.
Last week Attorney General Eric Holder called laws that bar voting by felons who have done their time "unnecessary and unjust" and "profoundly outdated." Laws in 11 states prevent some or all felons from voting after they have completed their prison sentences and are no longer on parole. Those laws are estimated to disenfranchise 5.8 million Americans and have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.
One third of respondents to the new poll, including 44 percent of African Americans, said they had at least one close friend or family member who had been convicted of a felony. African Americans were also the most likely (30 percent) to say that felons shouldn't lose their voting rights at all.
But few Americans support permanent disenfranchisement, regardless of whether they know someone who has been convicted of a felony. Only 19 percent of those who had a close friend or family member with a felony conviction, and only 24 percent of those who did not, said they supported disenfranchisement even after a sentence is served.
Republicans (33 percent) were more likely than Democrats (13 percent) or independents (21 percent) to support permanent loss of voting rights. But majorities of all three groups said either that voting rights should be restored once sentences are served or that felons shouldn't be disenfranchised at all.
When it comes to the most serious felonies, however, the survey shows that Americans may be willing to permanently strip away voting rights. That support varies dramatically depending on the specific crime.
Only 14 percent said it should be possible for those convicted of vandalism to lose their voting rights forever, 19 percent said so for drug possession, and 23 percent said so for theft. Vandalism, theft and drug possession can all be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the amount of damage, value of the stolen goods and amount of drugs involved, respectively.
On the other hand, 51 percent said it should be possible for those convicted of manslaughter to permanently lose their voting rights, and 42 percent said the same for drug distribution. Thirty-five percent were willing to strip the vote permanently from those convicted of assault.
Americans are more likely to think that felons should be permanently barred from sitting on juries than that they should be permanently barred from voting. Forty-nine percent said felons should never sit on juries, while 34 percent said they should regain that right once their sentences were complete. Seventeen percent said they weren't sure.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 11-12 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.