The Massachusetts Constitution was amended in 2001 to prohibit all individuals who are incarcerated for a felony conviction from voting in any election. This amendment affects only people incarcerated on a felony conviction on election day. A person who has finished serving their time for a felony conviction is no longer subject to this restriction, even if the person is on probation or parole or if they remain incarcerated awaiting trial on any charge or on a misdemeanor conviction. The restriction does not apply to people who are currently civilly committed but not serving any felony sentence.
You can vote immediately upon release from incarceration whether or not you are on parole or probation.
You can vote while incarcerated if:
- You are civilly committed and not serving any felony sentence
- You are serving a misdemeanor sentence and not serving any felony sentence
- You are pre-trial and not serving any felony sentence
If you are not currently incarcerated on a felony sentence and you wish to vote while in custody, this is what you need to do. These are the guidelines for Massachusetts voters. If you were not a Massachusetts resident immediately before your incarceration, contact the town clerk in the state and town you lived in before incarceration to determine what you need to do.
For information on your rights to vote in the current election, please click here.
To be eligible to vote, you also must be a U.S. citizen, a Massachusetts resident, and at least 16 years old.
If you are incarcerated, you do not need to register to vote before voting. You can register to vote if you want to, or you can vote by absentee ballot as a “specially qualified voter.”
Getting a ballot
To vote, you must submit an absentee ballot. You can write to PLS to request that we send you voting information and an absentee ballot application, or you can ask a friend or loved one to print the absentee ballot application from the Secretary of State’s website.
- English Absentee Ballot Application form
- Spanish Absentee Ballot Application Form
- Khmer Absentee Ballot Form
- Chinese Absentee Ballot Form
Filling out the form:
- On the absentee ballot application, check the box to indicate you are incarcerated but not for a felony conviction if this applies to you
- Include the address where you are registered to vote (check at RegisterToVoteMA.com); or qualified to vote from (your residence, see below for more information about where to claim your residence, it is generally not your correctional institution, but the place you lived previous to your incarceration)
- Include the mailing address where you want your ballot to be sent
- Sign the form
You can also send a written request for an absentee ballot without using the application form. If you write a letter rather than using the application form, you must include:
- your current place of incarceration
- the last address where you lived before your incarceration
- clearly state that you are not incarcerated on a felony conviction.
You will need to mail your written request or absentee ballot application to the election commission in the city of your residence (see below for residence information). For a list of local elections offices, please see: Elections: Find My Election Office
The State of Massachusetts presumes that incarcerated persons keep their residence in the city or town where they lived before incarceration rather than their correctional institution. If you wish to vote using your place of incarceration as your residence, you are required to show by “clear evidence” that you have established a new home in the prison community. Activities such as work release spent in the vicinity of the correctional facility or bank account there could provide such evidence.
When you receive the ballot, follow the instructions to mark your votes and mail the ballot back as directed. Officially, you have until noon on the day before the election to request an absentee ballot, but you must mail your ballot back early enough to be sure that your ballot will arrive at the designated office by the time the polls close on the day of the election. If you do not, your vote will not be counted. For the upcoming election, this means the ballot must be at the designated office by Election Day (the Tuesday after the first Monday in November).
Should you experience any difficulties because of a misinterpretation of the laws on prisoner voting, you should explain to the clerk’s office in writing that your felony sentence was either completed and that you are awaiting trial on another matter, or that you are in prison for a non-felony offense. Please reach out to this office if you encounter continued difficulties.
Voting is an important right and an important way to have your voice heard in the political process. We urge all incarcerated people to encourage their friends and family to vote and urge all incarcerated people who can exercise their right to vote.
Additional Resources related to voting for incarcerated persons:
- Emancipation Initiative: https://emancipationinitiative.org
- Secretary of State election advisory for incarcerated voters, October of 2020: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/Election-Advisory-20-06-Voting-While-Incarcerated.pdf
If you have additional questions or concerns that you would like assistance with, please call us during our intake hours on Monday (or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday):
1:00pm – 4:00pm
or write us a letter to:
50 Federal Street
Boston, MA 02110
For more information about how to reach us, please visit the contact us page