At the time of the drafting of the Constitution, who can and cannot vote was left up to the states. Despite leaving it up to the states to decide, did any of the Framers view that criminals, either in imprisonment or after their time, can or cannot vote?

  • What do you mean "view that"? Sep 19, 2014 at 17:28
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    Did they think that criminals...
    – Bochur613
    Sep 19, 2014 at 17:33
  • You want to know what somebody else thinks? How would you know what somebody else thinks? Especially a dead person. How would you know what I am thinking? I certainly hope you don't think you could know what I think by what I say. Sep 19, 2014 at 18:48
  • @TylerDurden Please. You know what was meant. Otherwise we shouldn't answer any question unless we have unforgeable video evidence and EEG waveforms. Oct 20, 2014 at 7:48

1 Answer 1


Fascinating question. Revocation of voting rights of convicted Criminals is based on "civil death", which is explained further at PROCON. British common law gave the government the right to revoke voting rights. I'm not aware of the framers explicitly addressing the issue, but they did discuss a more democratic franchise. My recollection is that they discussed this in terms of the ideal of democratic franchise, not in terms of civil death. I doubt that the topic came up.

1764 - 1776: Colonial Lawmakers Debate over Status of Voting as a Right or a Privilege Lawmakers in the British colonies of North America debate whether voting is a right or a privilege under the law. Voting, like many other civil rights, can be denied to convicted criminals under the ancient concept of “civil death” and the English legal concept of “attainder” (see 1607-1776). History and social policy professor Alexander Keyssar will later write that the various colonies have “no firm principles governing colonial voting rights, and suffrage [voting] laws accordingly were quite varied.… In practice, moreover, the enforcement of application of suffrage laws was uneven and dependent on local circumstances.” Many American colonists argue that voting is a privilege and not a right, and thusly can be granted or taken away by the government. Keyssar will write: “Yet there was a problem with this vision of suffrage as a right… there was no way to argue that voting was a right or a natural right without opening a Pandora’s box. If voting was a natural right, then everyone should possess it.” Eventually, the Founders define voting as a constitutional issue. Keyssar will write, “Implicit in this treatment was the notion that suffrage requirements ought to be durable and difficult to change.” PROCON, 10/19/2010 quoted in History Commons Entity Tags: Alexander Keyssar Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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    Prisons as we know them, for crimes other than insolvency, are an invention of the late 19th and early 20th century. The very concept would have been alien to the Founding Fathers, as there was no reason to deny voting rights to a bankrupt who had earned freedom by clearing his debt. Sep 19, 2014 at 23:14
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    @PieterGeerkens: that begs the question: were the voting rights denied to those sentenced to non-capital punishments (flogging, etc)
    – Michael
    Sep 22, 2014 at 7:42
  • @Michael: Perhaps read a definition of "begging the question" before you next use the phrase. Sep 22, 2014 at 22:41

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