As incarceration levels have risen in the United States, an ever-larger number of citizens
have temporarily or permanently lost the right to vote. What are the political
consequences of such franchise restrictions for convicted felons? To estimate expected
turnout and vote choice among disfranchised felons, we combine legal sources with data
series from the National Election Study, the Current Population Survey Voting
Supplement, Surveys of State Prison Inmates, and National Corrections Reporting
Program. To assess political impact, we examine two counterfactual conditions: (1)
whether removing disfranchisement laws would have altered the composition of the U.S.
Senate; and, (2) whether applying contemporary rates of disfranchisement to prior
presidential elections would have affected their outcomes. Because felons are drawn
disproportionately from the ranks of racial minorities and the poor, disfranchisement laws
tend to take votes from Democratic candidates. Our results suggest that felon
disfranchisement played a decisive role in several U.S. Senate elections, contributing to
the Republican Senate majority of the early 1980s and mid-1990s. Moreover, at least one
recent Democratic presidential victory would have been jeopardized had contemporary
rates of disfranchisement prevailed during earlier periods.