Formerly incarcerated people in Michigan retain their right to vote. As we head into election season, it’s important to take a moment to review your voting rights and to understand what Michigan law says about your or your friend or family member’s ability to cast a vote in state, local and federal elections.

In a number of states, people with a felony record are not eligible to vote. That is not the case in Michigan: incarcerated people are not eligible to vote only while incarcerated; this prohibition does not extend past release, even if a person is on probation or parole. The relevant provision of the Michigan code is as follows:

A person who, in a court of this or another state or in a federal court, has been legally convicted and sentenced for a crime for which the penalty imposed is confinement in jail or prison shall not vote, offer to vote, attempt to vote, or be permitted to vote at an election while confined (see MCL 168.758b, emphasis added).

As the phrase “while confined” makes clear, this prohibition extends only to people that are currently incarcerated. Plainly, a person on that has been released is no longer “confined,” even if they are on probation or parole. So, a person is eligible to vote the day they are released from jail or prison, even if they are on probation or parole.

In spite of this, it’s widely believed that a criminal record and probation or parole status disqualify a person from voting in Michigan, and voter participation among people with criminal records is low — a 2011 study found that only 25 percent of eligible people with felony records voted in 2004, and only 35 percent voted in 2008. This was about half the 66.2 percent turnout rate of the general population, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.

That people with criminal records are widely disenfranchised — mistakenly or not — is problematic, particularly since criminal justice policy is made by elected officials who overwhelmingly lack experience in the system, and the politics around criminal justice issues tends to skew punitive. The voice of people with criminal records needs to be heard in Lansing.

Voter Information

For people with criminal records that want to vote in this year’s election, the deadline to register for the general election is October 9. Unfortunately, the deadline to register to vote in tomorrow’s primaries was July 9. We recommend that people returning from prison check their voter registration status when released. That can be done on the Michigan Secretary of State website’s voter information center.

In addition, it is important to know that state ID is not required to register or to vote (see MCL 168.492a(2)). Michigan law reads:

If a person who applies in person to register to vote as provided in subsection (1) does not possess identification for election purposes, the person may sign an affidavit to that effect and be allowed to register to vote.) However, a person who signs an affidavit to vote remains subject to any applicable federal identification requirements under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 until those identification requirements are satisfied.

A state ID is not required to vote on Election Day, as the Secretary of State’s website makes clear. However, Michigan does have a voter identification requirement at the polls. Voters are asked to present an acceptable photo ID such as a Michigan driver’s license or identification card.

Please note that voters who do not have an acceptable form of ID or failed to bring it with them to the polls still can vote. They simply sign a brief legal statement, also known as an affidavit, stating that they’re not in possession of a photo ID. Their ballots are included with all others and counted on Election Day.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Due to term limits, we will be electing a new governor, attorney general, secretary of state, two-thirds of the state Senate and dozens of new state Representatives. Mark your calendars and make your voices heard!