Will felons tip the presidential race to Obama?

Bill Otis points out that, contrary to widespread belief, the great majority of felons either never lose their voting rights or automatically get them restored upon completion of their sentence. And because felons overwhelmingly favor Democrats, their vote represents a potential gold mine for President Obama.

Generally, it’s not considered good politics to pitch for the felon vote. According to Reuters, however, the Obama campaign has reached out to felons in Ohio, where only those behind bars on election day are barred from voting. Estimates put the eligible felon vote in Ohio at more than 700,000.

In three swing states, Virginia, Iowa, and Florida, felons cannot vote unless the governor decides otherwise. Florida governor Rick Scott, overturning Charlie Crist’s policy, has imposed tough hurdles on would-be felon voters. Similarly, in Iowa, Gov. Branstad reversed the pro-felon voting policy of Tom Vilsack and has approved only a small number of felon voters.

In Virginia, things are trending in the opposite direction. Gov. McDonnell has pledged to restore the right to vote to more felons than any governor in Virginia history, and is closing in on keeping this promise. Even so, we’re talking about approximately 4,000 new felon voters.

Ohio, though, is another story, and one worth watching.

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