Pippa Holloway


In Missouri, individuals who have committed a felony offense cannot vote until they have completed their prison sentence and any probation or parole. There are areas of both continuity and change over the two centuries since Missouri’s first constitution allowed the legislature to limit the suffrage rights of those convicted of infamous crimes. In pre-Civil War Missouri, the concept of infamy was a part of legal culture, as was the case in other states. Infamy connected the degradation of criminal activity and criminal punishment with the loss of citizenship rights and thus provided the intellectual foundation for felon disfranchisement. In the half decade after the Civil War, disfranchisement laws were used to target African American voters in most former slave states to achieve partisan and racial ends, and there is some evidence that this was the case in Missouri also. These laws continue to disproportionately affect African American voters in the present day. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, questions of pardon, parole, and restoration of rights played a key role in shaping the popular and legal understanding of felon disfranchisement. Today, there is no constitutional requirement to extend disfranchisement through probation and parole, and many other states have recently changed their laws so that voting rights are restored after release from incarceration.

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