Prisoners’ Voting Rights
The Massachusetts Constitution was amended in 2001 to prohibit all prisoners who are incarcerated for a felony conviction from voting in any election. This amendment affects only people currently incarcerated on a felony conviction. A person who has finished serving his or her time for a felony conviction is no longer subject to this restriction, even if the person remains incarcerated awaiting trial on any charge or on a misdemeanor conviction. The restriction does not apply to people who are currently civilly committed but not serving any felony sentence.
If you are not currently incarcerated on a felony sentence and you wish to vote while in custody, this is what you need to do (these are the guidelines for Massachusetts voters- if you were not a resident of Massachusetts immediately prior to your incarceration, contact the town clerk in the state and town you lived in before incarceration to determine what you need to do).
Registering: If you are a prisoner, you do not need to register to vote before voting.
Getting a ballot: In order to vote, you must request and use an absentee ballot from the Secretary of State’s office. Forms are available online in both English and Spanish for requesting an absentee ballot for yourself, or for your family member. You can also write to “City or Town Clerk or Election Commission, City or Town Hall, [Your City], MA [Your Zip Code].”
Voting: When you receive the ballot, follow the instructions to mark your votes and mail the ballot back as directed. Officially, you have until noon on the day prior to the election to request an absentee ballot, but you must mail your ballot back early enough to be sure that your ballot will arrive at the designated office by the time the polls close on the day of the election. If you do not, your vote will not be counted. For the upcoming election, this means the ballot must be at the designated office by Election Day (the Tuesday after the first Monday in November).
Should you experience any difficulties because of a misinterpretation of the laws on prisoner voting, you should explain to the clerk’s office in writing that your felony sentence was either completed and that you are awaiting trial on another matter, or that you are in prison for a non-felony offense. Please inform this office of any continuing difficulties.
Voting is an important right and an important way to have your voice heard in the political process. We urge all prisoners to encourage their friends and family to vote and urge all prisoners who can to exercise their right to vote.