Can a Felon Run for President?

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Most felons know that they lose some of their rights after committing a crime. If that is the case, do they also lose their chance to run for president? 

The U.S. Constitution spells out that the only requirements to become President of the United States (POTUS) are at least 35 years old, a natural-born citizen of the U.S., and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years. 

According to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. president’s term is four years.  

You may wonder whether a convicted felon can become the U.S. President based on the U.S. Constitution’s guidelines. How about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)? Has the SCOTUS made a ruling on this issue? 

The matter impacts a significant proportion of the U.S. population.  

As of March 2022, federal, state, and local prisons house nearly two million individuals in the U.S. Approximately 0.7% of the U.S. population is currently in state or federal prisons or local jails. 

At the end of 2019, the U.S. judicial system provided community supervision through probation or parole for approximately one in 59 U.S. adults (1.6%). 

Lookupinmate.org is a one-stop site where you can access valuable information regarding inmates and correctional facilities throughout the U.S. If you wish to learn more about whether felons can become the POTUS, read on. 

When Someone in Prison Run for President: What Is the Probability of a Felon Becoming the U.S. President? 

There has never been an American president that has been a convicted felon before entering office. However, since no part in the U.S. Constitution prohibits a felon from contesting, there is a possibility that one can get elected. 

Is It Possible for a Natural-Born Citizen to Run for President From Prison? 

An individual who becomes a felon can experience many setbacks. They can lose various rights based on the American Constitution. Such fundamental rights include freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and the right to vote.

However, the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit a felon from participating in the presidential election. The basic requirements include:

  • At least 35 years old
  • A natural-born citizen of the U.S.
  • A resident of the United States for at least 14 years  

Still, other opponents may leverage a convicted felon’s character to question their aptitude to hold office.

Other pertinent issues include the impact of a convicted felon’s ability to run for a state office and the potential loss and restoration of voting rights. 

The State Requirements to Run for Office: Can Felons Run for State-Level Offices?

The critical factor in the issue of felons running for state public office is the state in question. States’ restrictions on individuals convicted of a felony may either be strict or more lenient. 

How states handle such issues varies. Some states allow candidates to run if the offenses were a minimum number of years in the past. An example is ten years. 

Meanwhile, other states disallow anyone convicted of a crime related to moral turpitude to run for office. Such issues include:

  • Deceit
  • Lying
  • Fraudulent receipt of public funds 
  • Defaulting on financial responsibilities 

An example is Texas’ laws that exclude anyone convicted of high crimes from holding office. Examples include:

  • Bribery
  • Forgery 
  • Perjury  

Meanwhile, the state of Georgia’s laws disallow anyone convicted of a crime related to moral turpitude from holding office. The exception is if:

  • The state restored an individual’s legal rights    
  • Ten or more years have elapsed since their sentence

You can research the particular laws regarding convicted felons running for state offices in any of the 50 states, including: 

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

The severity of a convicted felon’s crime affects the restoration of their rights, including the ability to run for public office. 

An example is former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in prison for felony racketeering. Racketeering is a criminal act that often involves extortion.

Afterward, Edwards ran for election to the U.S. Congress in 2014.

What Does the U.S. Constitution Say?

The U.S. Constitution upholds the concept that American voters determine who will represent them. The qualifications are related to citizenship, age, and residency.

However, a debatable issue among experts like political scientists relates to Section II of the 14th Amendment that the U.S. Congress added to the Constitution after the Civil War.

The section states that no person shall be “elector of President and Vice President” after engaging in “insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution or after supporting “enemies” of the U.S. 

What Exactly Is a Felony?

A felony is a type of offense that criminal law deems as punishable. Several states classify felonies under various categories based on the crime’s severity and its punishment. 

As of June 2022, a felon has never become a U.S. president. One reason is presidential candidates with criminal convictions have difficulty convincing individuals to vote for them. 

Opposition candidates can research the details of a convicted felon. 

Candidates cannot hide their felony charges since their public records include those. For this reason, voters can learn about the particular charge and sentence and may opt not to vote for candidates with criminal convictions. 

Opposing candidates can then use the facts to discredit the convicted felons through debates and political ads, destroying their opponent’s reputation. 

A felon may also lose the trust of voters. Individuals may not trust them to obey America’s laws and honorably represent them to the world’s countries. 

Felonies: An Explanatory Guide 

The U.S. criminal code categorizes crimes into three main categories:

  • Felonies
  • Infractions
  • Misdemeanors

A felony refers to high crimes or severe offenses resulting in incarceration or death sentences. However, different states have various definitions of a felony. The severity of certain crimes or verdicts often determines the definition. 

Classes of Felony

U.S. federal law determines classes of a felony based on the nature of imprisonment or maximum term as follows: 

  • Class A: Life imprisonment or the death penalty
  • Class B: Imprisonment term of at least 25 years 
  • Class C: Imprisonment term between 10 to 25 years 
  • Class D: Imprisonment term of five to 10 years 
  • Class E: Imprisonment term of one to five years 

Has an American President Been Convicted of a Felony?

No individual has entered the office of the U.S. president after the legal system has convicted them of a felony. 

Has a President Ever Committed a Crime?

In the history of the U.S. presidency, Congress has not convicted any president of a crime. However, some impeachments have occurred:

President Andrew Johnson 

Vice President Johnson became president after John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act. 

However, the Senate decided not to convict Johnson. Hence, Congress never convicted Johnson for his crime. 

President Bill Clinton 

Congress accused Clinton of lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton. However, the Senate narrowly decided not to convict the president.

A Felony Does Not Disqualify Individuals From Being President. Should It Disqualify Them From Voting?

In many locations in the U.S., individuals cannot vote if they are convicted felons. Some individuals argue the prohibiting of convicted felons from voting is related to the end of slavery during the Reconstruction era, disenfranchising Black voters.  

African-American politicians during Reconstruction included governors, senators, and congress members. In addition, Black voters helped to end legal slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. 

The U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th amendments made it more challenging for states to disenfranchise Black voters. 

In fact, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government and all states from denying a citizen of the United States the right to vote based on an individual’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Previous condition of servitude 

What Are the Categories of Voting Rights?

The legal system’s restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders differs among states. The different classifications of voting rights include:

  • After parole
  • Ending after being released 
  • After probation 
  • Circumstantial one 

Can Felons and Prisoners Vote?

As of August 2021, most state laws bar individuals convicted of a felony from voting for a period. The exception includes two states (Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia. 

Several states restore voting rights automatically after individuals exit jail or prison. Other states bar felons from voting during probation or parole.

There are also U.S. states that permanently bar convicted felons from voting or require them to petition the government to restore their voting rights. 

People With Felony Convictions: State Voting Laws and Policies 

Some states, such as Virginia, have passed laws that contradict the current state policy that the governor has enacted. You should learn the current state policy related to felony convictions. The state policies include:

  • Losing vote permanently
  • Voting restored following prison, parole, and probation 
  • Voting restored after prison and parole
  • Voting restored after prison 
  • Voting from prison 

How Can One Get Their Voting Rights Restored?

A felon must complete all parts of their sentence before the state restores their voting rights. Such parts include:

  • Probation 
  • Restitution paid 
  • No pending criminal charge

After meeting these criteria, felons can seek their rights restored through clemency. Clemency does not establish a sense of innocence. Individuals will still have a criminal record. However, they can run for and hold public office due to restored rights.  

The loss of civil rights greatly decreases an individual’s right to public office. Still, the loss of such rights does not affect their right to run for political office. 

In some cases, after voters elected convicted felons, state laws prevented them from being sworn into office.

In the case of federal office positions, convicted felons can run for office. However, Congress determines whether they can serve. For example, they must still meet citizenship, age, and residency requirements. 

Federal elected positions often differ from state positions. This fact is greatly due to the minimalist American constitution. Hence, the states can establish several decisions.

Running for State Office as a Felon or With a Criminal Record: Steps to Success  

You may wonder how you or someone you know can achieve more success as a felon or individual with a criminal record when running for a state office. Here are some points to ponder. 

How Can a Felon Gain Support and Succeed When Running for Office?

After the legal system restores the rights of a convicted felon, they may decide to run for political office. However, they should have a plan to handle their felony conviction. 

A felony is a component of one’s public record. Hence, an individual should never attempt to conceal it. A political candidate should not make the felony their campaign’s focus. 

For example, the candidate can explain the felony as a past error. However, they can also say they decided to live a different life, such as providing public service. 

If the felony becomes an issue during the campaign, the candidate should be open and honest about it. They should not dwell on their past mistakes or be defensive. 

How Should Individuals Support Felons Running for Office?

If a convicted felon decides to run for political office, they will need their friends and family members’ support and encouragement. The candidates should focus on serving the public and establishing trust with them. 

Individuals close to the candidates can remind them of their commitment to public service and encourage them not to give up. 

If your friend or loved one decides to run for office, you should also stand by them whenever they need support since others can benefit if they win the election. 

Convicted Politicians Who Ran for Office 

Eugene Debs 

Eugene Debs served a ten-year sentence in an Atlanta penitentiary when he lost the 1920 presidential election. 

The labor leader had publicly opposed the U.S.’s involvement in World War I two years earlier. As a result, the legal system convicted him of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. 

Debs received almost one million votes in his fifth and final presidential run. Meanwhile, President Warren Harding commuted Debs’ sentence in December 1921. A commuted sentence is lessened or reduced.

Lyndon LaRouche

LaRouche was a convicted fraudster (mail fraud) and conspiratory theorist imprisoned during the early 1990s. He ran as a third-party candidate who characterized several famous individuals, including: 

  • Jimmy Carter (Democrat POTUS)
  • Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under Republican POTUS Richard Nixon) 
  • Walter Mondale (Vice President and Democrat) 
  • Bertrand Russell (British philosopher)
  • George Soros (American businessman and philanthropist)

U.S. Constitution: Trumps State Laws for Presidential Qualifications

The state laws that disallow felons from running from office are only related to state and local offices. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump once joked he would lose few voters’ support if he shot somebody in the “middle of Fifth Avenue.” This statement referred to a major road in Manhattan, New York City. 

The U.S. Congress’ January 6th committee investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. capitol said Trump may have broken the law by urging a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol. By declaring that the 2020 election was stolen, Trump lit the flame of the onslaught. 

In Georgia, Fulton County prosecutors investigated Trump for potentially violating election laws after asking state election officials to “find” over 11,000 votes. 

However, some experts believe a convicted felon can legally run for president. They argue the Constitution does not prohibit felons from running for the U.S. President. Additionally, states can only disqualify candidates from running for office within their state. 

U.S. State Capitol Attack of 2021

The U.S. Capitol onslaught happened on January 6, 2021. The attack was initiated by a mob supporters of Republican President Donald J. Trump. 

The onslaught disrupted a joint session of Congress convened to certify the 2020 presidential results, in which Joe Biden, a Democrat, won. 

The Capitol attack was instigated to prevent a legitimate president-elect from assuming office. Hence, it was widely regarded as an attempted coup d’état

The FBI or Federal Bureau of Investigation considered the Capitol attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The violent incident was broadcast live on major news networks across the United States. 

Trump himself watched the assault. It was also reported that the he actually liked what he saw and even expressed excitement about it. 

Before the onslaught, Trump gave a speech in which he encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol with an attempt to resist the certification of Biden’s victory. 

A large crowd went to the venue and violently opposed the certification. Many were hurt during the onslaught. Hence, the Democratic-led House of Representatives decided to impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection. 

However, the Senate subsequently acquitted Trump. 

What Was Trump’s Basis?

Even before the election announcement, Trump already started making false claims that Democrats were planning to rig the 2020 election through the following mechanics:

  • Voter fraud
  • Systematically discarding, altering, or forging absentee ballots 

Trump’s accusations stemmed from his frequent assertions during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming that Democrats would rig the election of that year. 

Several Republican members of Congress indirectly endorsed Trump’s accusations by expressing their uncetaintly regarding the election’s outcome. 

Some of these Republicans also refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory publicly. 

References

1. Presidents, Vice Presidents, and First Ladies of the United States
https://www.usa.gov/presidents
2. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022
https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2022.html
3. Can a felon run for president?
https://www.thefreemanonline.org/can-a-felon-run-for-president/
4. What percent of the U.S. is incarcerated?” (And other ways to measure mass incarceration)
https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/01/16/percent-incarcerated/
5. Voting Rights for People with a Felony Conviction
https://www.nonprofitvote.org/voting-in-your-state/voting-as-an-ex-offender/
6. State Voting Laws & Policies for People with Felony Convictions
https://felonvoting.procon.org/state-felon-voting-laws/
7. Article II
https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleii
8. Probation and parole in the United States, 2019
https://bjs.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh236/files/media/document/ppus19.pdf
9. Felony
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/felony
10. January 6th
https://january6th.house.gov/
11. The emancipation proclamation 
https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation
12. Commute a sentence
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/commute_a_sentence
13. United States Capitol attack of 2021
https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-Capitol-attack-of-2021

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