Fact Check: Did Biden Sign an Executive Order Allowing Incarcerated Felons to Vote?

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are determined to advance agendas on voting.

For one, Democrats are keen on thwarting a flood of legislation proposed in 43 states that increases barriers to the polls, including reducing early voting and limiting voting by mail.

President Joe Biden is standing behind congressional Democrats' goals to expand voting access, particularly for marginalized groups.

A new executive order that Biden signed Sunday in recognition of the 56th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," when state troopers in Selma, Alabama, beat and tear-gassed peaceful civil rights marchers, amplifies existing Democratic efforts to protect voters.

The Claim

Biden issued the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting over the weekend to "promote and defend the right to vote for all Americans who are legally entitled to participate in elections."

This includes tackling discriminatory policies and other obstacles that adversely affect eligible voters in certain communities.

The order comes after the House voted against an amendment to the H.R. 1 For the People Act that would have restored voting rights to people with felony convictions, including those who currently are incarcerated.

97-328: House defeats Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) amdt to Democrats' voting rights bill (HR 1),making it clear felony convictions shouldn't bar any eligible person from voting in federal elections,including those who are currently incarcerated. 119 Democrats joined all Rs in voting No. pic.twitter.com/aOtQRfCSpx

— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) March 2, 2021

After the defeat of the H.R. 1 amendment, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) claimed Biden's executive order would fulfill the same goal.

Greene said on Twitter that "Biden serves the radical squad and signs an executive order allowing felons to vote in jail."

I called a roll call vote specifically on this and we defeated it handily 328-97.

Now Biden serves the radical squad and signs an executive order allowing felons to vote in jail?!

Is it not clear to people yet that Biden and the Democrats are radically transforming everything? https://t.co/Znb0N7Z8R7

— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) March 7, 2021

The Facts

While H.R.-1, Democrats' landmark voting rights and campaign finance legislation, awaits a vote in the Senate, Biden signed a new order that his office said honors the legacy of Selma and the late Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the historic 1965 march.

Despite the legendary efforts and accomplishments of early civil rights leaders, whose organizing resulted in measures such as the Voting Rights Act and desegregation, people of color, the elderly and other groups face significant hurdles to exercising their right to vote.

"Too many Americans face significant obstacles to exercising their fundamental right to vote. For generations, Black voters and other voters of color have faced discriminatory policies that suppress their vote," Biden's office said in a statement on Sunday.

"Voters of color are more likely to face long lines at the polls and are disproportionately burdened by voter identification laws and limited opportunities to vote by mail."

The order enacts several key provisions that include support for states with voter registration, improving the vote.gov website and establishing a steering committee for Native American voting rights, among others.

The order also provides voting access to and education for eligible citizens in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). According to BOP data, there are 151,819 total federal inmates in the United States and 12,679 federal inmates in BOP custody.

Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice said the order is "not providing eligibility to people who were previously ineligible."

This order is providing opportunity and information to allow them to vote, not changing whether or not they are eligible to vote in the first place.
Sean Morales-Doyle, Brennan Center for Justice

"This order is providing opportunity and information to allow them to vote, not changing whether or not they are eligible to vote in the first place," Morales-Doyle said. "These people are eligible under whichever [state] law is applicable to them."

The order directs the Justice Department to help individuals leaving federal prison who are eligible to vote to get registered and provide others with information about when and how their voting rights can be restored depending on the state in which they live.

It also directs the attorney general to coordinate with the Probation and Pretrial Services Office to develop similar procedures for eligible individuals under its supervision, according to a statement.

"The Executive Order also directs the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure the U.S. Marshals Service includes language in jail contracts to provide eligible individuals educational materials related to voter registration and voting, and to facilitate voting by mail, to the extent practicable and appropriate," Biden's office said.

"And, it directs the Attorney General to take steps to support formerly incarcerated individuals in obtaining a means of identification that satisfies state voter identification laws."

But the order is not a watershed moment for voting rights for felons in or out of prison. According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), most people in prison already are eligible to vote because they are awaiting trial and have not yet been convicted, while others who are eligible are serving for only minor offenses, and in states like New Jersey, voting access has been expanded to felons serving parole and probation.

The voting rights of people convicted of felonies vary from state to state.

According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Vermont, Maine and Washington, D.C allow people convicted of a felony to vote while in prison.

In some states, people with felony convictions regain their right to vote immediately upon their release from prison, while other states will restore voting rights only after parole and/or probation is served.

Additionally, some states permanently disenfranchise people convicted of certain crimes or require additional requirements in order for voting rights to be restored after a felony conviction.

More than 740,000 individuals in jail have the right to vote, PPI said in a report. But many are confused or provided incorrect information about their eligibility, which acts as a barrier to the ballot box. Education and registration for eligible voters in jail are what Biden's order addresses. It does not overhaul state restrictions on voting for convicted felons.

The Ruling


There is no provision in Biden's executive order that makes it legal for convicted, currently incarcerated felons to vote.

The states determine the voting eligibility of people convicted of felonies.

The order ensures that the federal government assists those eligible to vote by providing people leaving federal prisons with information about getting registered to vote and the details of the voting restrictions in their state.

In many states, felons on parole or probation already are eligible to vote because of state legislation. Many citizens being detained pretrial or for minor offenses are eligible to vote but face barriers, which Biden's order seeks to reduce.

Selma, Alabama, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Bloody Sunday
Politicians remembered late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis in commemorative social media posts on Sunday, as President Joe Biden signed an executive order to expand voting access in the U.S. In the photograph above, a young boy rides on the shoulders of a parent as thousands of people walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march on March 8, 2015, in Selma, Alabama. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
False: The claim is demonstrably false. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be false.
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