Trump slammed voting rights for felons in 2016. Now he may become one

Donald Trump has long called for convicted felons to be banned from voting in the US.

Now, he could become one.

The former president is currently on trial charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in order to silence her about an alleged 2006 affair in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Mr Trump has denied that the affair took place and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The falsifying records charges on their own are classed as misdemeanors but have been raised to felonies because prosecutors allege they were carried out with the intent to commit or conceal another crime – in this case a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

Laws around felons voting vary considerably across the US.

In New York, where Mr Trump is on trial, convicted felon’s lose their voting rights during incarceration and are restored automatically upon completion of their prison sentence.

In Florida, where Mr Trump is registered to vote, the law states that a felon’s right to vote is governed by the law in the state in which they were convicted.

Based on this, it’s not only Mr Trump’s freedom – but also his right to vote – that’s currently on the line.

Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Monday 20 May (AP)
Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Monday 20 May (AP)

For years, Mr Trump has slammed the idea of convicted felons having the right to vote in US elections.

In August 2016, the then-presidential candidate Mr Trump slammed then-Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe for an order that restored some voting rights to convicted felons, claiming that he was attempting to help Mr Trump’s opponent former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton is banking on her friend Terry McAuliffe on getting thousands of violent felons to the voting booths in an effort to cancel out the votes of both law enforcement and crime victims,” Mr Trump said at the time. “They are letting people vote in your Virginia election that should not be allowed to vote. Sad. So Sad.”

In the spring of 2019, both Mr Trump and his then-vice president Mike Pence went after Democratic candidates, including now-President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, over the matter.

At the time, Mr Sanders had said during a CNN town hall that every American citizen, including felons serving life sentences, should have the right to vote.

Mr Biden said he only wanted to see voting rights restored after felons had completed their sentences.

Speaking at the National Rifle Association’s annual conference that year, Mr Trump railed against the comments.

“Let the Boston bomber vote,” Mr Trump said. “I don’t think so. Let terrorists who are in prison vote, I don’t think so.’”

“When Bernie Sanders made certain statements the other day, I said, ‘Well, that’s the end of his campaign.’ Then, what happened is everybody agreed with him,” he falsely claimed. A number of Democratic candidates had also disagreed with Mr Sanders on the premise.

In September 2020, then-president Trump also slammed former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, accusing him of a “serious crime” for helping former prisoners to vote.

At the time, Mr Bloomberg had raised more than $16m to back an effort by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which works to pay fines and fees for ex-prisoners registered to vote in Florida in order to restore their right to vote.

Donald Trump seen in court sketch during hush money trial in New York (REUTERS)
Donald Trump seen in court sketch during hush money trial in New York (REUTERS)

“Wow, nobody realized how far Mini Mike Bloomberg went in bribing ex-prisoners to go out and vote for Sleepy Joe,” Mr Trump wrote on X, then Twitter.

“He is desperate to get back into the good graces of the people who not only badly beat him, but made him look like a total fool. Now he’s committed a serious crime!”

Mr Trump’s comments could now come back to haunt him.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison on each of the 34 counts of a Class E felony, capped at 20 years over.

Though it’s unlikely that as a first-time, non-violent offender he will be jailed (he is more likely to be hit with financial penalties), a sentence is of course at the judge’s discretion.

So, this November it’s possible that the Republican party’s presidential candidate will be running in an election that he can’t actually legally vote in.