The national debate over whether or not currently incarcerated felons should be able to vote has already been resolved in more than a dozen other countries.

Earlier this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) stated at a CNN town hall that felons — even those convicted of heinous crimes — should maintain their right to vote, calling it a right that should never be taken away from any citizen. Sentor Kamala Harris (D-California) said there should be a conversation about the topic, but didn’t definitively state a position. And South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg drew the line at incarcerated felons, saying he opposed those inmates being able to vote while in prison.

While the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that 14 states allow felons to vote following the completion of their sentences, only two states (Maine and Vermont) allow felons to vote while incarcerated. And in 12 states, felons permanently lose their voting rights even after completing their sentences, and only win them back after petitioning the governor or completing a post-sentencing waiting period.

According to Newsweek, the question of whether currently incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote has already been answered around the world. In 16 countries — mostly in Europe — citizens never lose their right to vote, even when behind bars. Those countries are:

1. Canada

2. Croatia

3. Czech Republic

4. Denmark

5. Finland

6. Ireland

7. Latvia

8. Lithuania

9. Macedonia

10. Serbia

11. Slovenia

12. Spain

13. South Africa

14. Sweden

15. Switzerland

16. Ukraine

In the 2018 edition of the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, the U.S. ranked just 17th out of all countries in overall freedom — based on criteria like rule of law, security and safety, movement, religion, association, assembly, expression, and information — and several of those 16 aforementioned countries ranked ahead of the U.S., like Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Switzerland. Even countries ranked less free than the U.S. still allow incarcerated felons to vote, like the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, and Ukraine.

Top 21 most free countries, according to the Cato Institute

While some states are attempting to make it easier for felons to vote again, even those efforts are being hamstrung by lawmakers. Florida, for example, passed Amendment 4, which makes it possible for former felons to vote again, though Florida’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently passed a bill requiring those felons to pay back their restitution before regaining their voting rights. The Miami Herald reports that this could potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of felons from voting, despite completing their sentences.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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