Can a Convicted Felon Run for President?

Yes, a convicted felon can run for president in the United States of America. The U.S. Constitution does not prevent a felon from running for the office of the President. What becomes interesting is whether they are able to handle the political fallout of running from or after spending time in prison, although this has become seemingly less of an issue in modern times.

There are very limited requirements when running for Presidential election, which are listed below:

  • The candidate contesting for the position must be a natural-born citizen of the United States of America.
  • The candidate must be 35 years or older.
  • The candidate should be a US resident for 14 years.

The only additional exception is that the American Constitution prohibits a tenure of longer than 2 terms of 4 years each.

Note: The constitution also states that if a public official served under another President’s term for up to two years or more, then that person shall serve for only one term.

Can Former President Donald Trump Run Again?

According to these rules, since Donald Trump was a single-term president, he is eligible to run for President for one more term. Even if he were to become incarcerated, the constitution spells out that it is entirely legal to be a felon running for office. The reason for this is that giving someone a felony record could be used as a political tool to prevent someone from taking office, that is why a clean record is not required to run for president.

What’s The Probability Of A Felon Becoming A President?

There has been no American President convicted or who has been incarcerated or served a sentence prior to their Presidential term. Felony charges or a criminal record often act as leverage for the Opposition. Stigmatization of felons complicates the process of establishing trust amongst people and also harms the public record.

A felony record is more of a political burden than a legal one – the only major negative effect of having a record is that it may be used by your opposition. Alternatively, if your charges were bogus, it may end up galvanizing your base.

Historically there have been several people who have run for President with no legal issues:

  • 1920– Socialist Party Leader Eugene V. Debs ran while in an Atlanta federal penitentiary for charges he gained advocating dodging the draft. He received 913,664 votes (3.4%)
  • 1992– Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate became the second person to run for office from a prison cell. He garnered 22,863 votes (less than 0.1%) in his third of nine presidential runs.
  • 2012 – Keith Judd, another perennial presidential candidate, received 41% of the primary vote in West Virginia vs. an incumbent Barack Obama.

It should be noted that none of these candidates ever received any electoral votes.

If a person decides to contest for the election without constant support from family members, friends, and the community, it can become extremely taxing. Because of this, the probability of a felon becoming President of the United States of America is narrowed even further. Additionally, the deprivation of civil rights (if the candidate is presently incarcerated) greatly hurts the candidate.

Is It Possible For Felon To Run For A State-level Office?

The power to re-grant a natural-born citizen felon the right to run for a public office lies with the state. Often, after the suspension of rights due to a felony conviction, the restoration of their rights is influenced by the severity of the felony.

Some states insist on completely debarring certain felons from contesting, while others impose specific time requirements to be met before challenging state positions. 

An example of these strict restrictions is how Georgian laws will only allow a felon to run for office after a period of 10 years from their sentence completion.

The important aspect of restraint includes moral turpitude, violent crimes or bribery, and forgeries. The state of Texas eliminates most felons convicted of a crime, perjury, or corruption to run for office.

  • 2014- After serving 8 years in prison for felony racketeering charges former Lousiana Governor Edwin Edwards ran for election to U.S. Congress.

Summarized Steps For A Person With Criminal Record To Run For State Office

Interestingly, the bar to run for President is much lower for someone dealing with a felony conviction. To run for state office in most states, you will need to follow this procedure:

  1. Sincerely adhere to the terms and conditions of the sentence completion
  2. Complete any additional period of Probation or Parole
  3. Clearing fines, restitution, or any pending criminal charge
  4. On successful completion of sentence, the felons must apply for Clemency wherein a Judge would review their conduct and sentence (Some states have automatic felony expungement rules, you can view all your states felony expungement rules here)
  5. All rights restored on the grant of clemency or a pardon
  6. Genuinely and actively devise plans for the betterment of the community (Community Service)
  7. Safeguarding one’s mental and physical health. If you run for office after a felony you can expect to be ‘under the microscope’ even more than a traditional candidate. It’s important that you don’t give your opposition anything that can be used against you.

Note: In some states, such as Alabama, having a felony on your record can disqualify you for running for office. In the case of Alabama, you would need to receive a pardon from the governor to be eligible.

How Can A Felon Gain Support When Running For Office?

The primary source of support stems from the candidate’s immediate family, friends, and acquaintances. The candidate must elucidate his goals before this circle to help them stay centred if or when circumstances become excessively challenging.

 Secondary yet equally crucial sources of support sprout from the local community.

The candidate must first prove his reformation before his local community by actively sincerely engaging in acts of public service. The Act of public services could be organizing festivals, raising funds for charity, a benefit concert, devising petitions, and volunteering whenever required. Working for the local community would also give the elected President an intricate understanding of problems and mode of operation at the grassroots level.

Can A Prisoner Vote?

The right to vote for a felon varies with different States. The only significant adverse effect is that no attempts have been made at the Federal level to review laws regarding voting rights for felons.

Estimates state there are 6 million people in America who cannot exercise their right to vote due to their imprisonment.

  • Out of the 50 American States, Maine and Vermont are the only states granting felons the right to vote from prison whereas others put on rather strict restrictions.
  • Of the remaining 48 States, 22 States, including Texas and New Jersey, withhold voting rights when incarcerated and even when out on parole.
  • 14 States, including Massachusetts, Utah, and Hawaii, refrain felons from voting from prison, but rights are restored immediately upon sentence completion.
  • 12 States consisting of Alabama and Arizona only restore his or her rights to vote upon a pardon. The Alabama felons lose the right to run for state office.

This is interesting because it makes it possible for someone to run for office yet not vote for themselves.

Is It Possible For A Natural Born Citizen To Run For President From Prison?

Yes, it is possible to run for President. There have been instances of candidates contesting for the Presidential seat while serving time in the prison cell.

In 1920, Eugene V. Debs campaigned for Presidential elections from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Georgia. Debs was imprisoned for his protests against World War I.

The campaign buttons he used openly banked on his prison sentence and were imprinted with ‘Convict No. 9653’. After Debs, the second person was Lyndon LaRouche, who ran for public office from a prison cell in 1992. LaRouche was incarcerated for tax evasion and mail fraud. Both Debs and Rouche were unsuccessful in reserving the position. 

It should be noted that while they were successful in running for President, no imprisoned candidate has ever received any electoral votes.

Even if they had been elected, the question of executing their presidential duties from prison would arise. As a result of an inability to be present for meetings or conduct the daily projects, they would be under a constant threat of invocation of the 25th Amendment or Impeachment. The Vice President can also take the responsibilities only when clear guidelines and laws are issued if such a situation ever transpires.

When Has A President Committed A Crime?

Even though the U.S. Constitution clearly defines the Impeachment procedure, it is ambiguous whether a President undergoes prosecution in Court. There have been instances of impeachment in U.S. history.

The first President to be impeached was Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln. Johnson was impeached on February 24, 1868, by the House of Representatives on the grounds of violating the Tenure of Office Act.

Another example is Bill Clinton. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton on December 19, 1998. He was charged with obstruction of justice and perjury for refuting his association with Monica Lewinksy. 

Neither of the two received any conviction for the indictments following their impeachment.

If a president is impeached and convicted in their first term as President, they are no longer eligible to serve a second term.

An Explanatory Guide To Felony

The U.S. Criminal Code broadly segregates crimes into three categories- Felonies, Infractions, and Misdemeanors. Felony refers to high crimes or severe offenses punishable by incarceration or a death sentence.

The definition of a felony differs within States, but it is often determined by the intensity of certain crimes and the gravity of the verdict.

Classes Of Felony

Classes of Felony as determined by the U.S. Federal Law based on the maximum term or nature of imprisonment are as follows:

  • Class A: Imprisonment for life or the Death penalty
  • Class B: Term of imprisonment is 25 years or more
  • Class C: Imprisonment term is between 10 years to 25 years
  • Class D: Term of incarceration is more than 5 years up to 10 years
  • Class E: Imprisonment for more than 1 year for a maximum of 5 years

Note: State law can vary as some states use numbers or different letters, but the general levels remain the same.

How To Get The Rights Restored?

The renewal of Rights varies ever so slightly from State to State. However, the basic procedure remains the same while few states impose specific extant laws. Typically, most rights are immediately restored on completion of sentence and additional conditions such as payment of all their restitution and penalties and completion of any period of parole or probation.

In some cases, restoration of rights has to be initiated by an appeal for ‘Clemency.’ While felons can regain rights through Clemency, it only alleviates the penalties or severity of a sentence without clearing the record.

Each state falls under one of four broad categories:

Renewal of rights under certain felonies requires a grant of ‘Pardon’. When Federal positions are in question, a felon is free to contest for public federal office; however, the consent to hold office remains embedded in the federal government’s decision.

Success Tips For Felons When Running For Office

If the convicted felon decides, the candidate can contest for the public office of the President of the United States of America on renewal of their suspended rights.

The key to a successful election campaign is to devise a competent plan for managing the conviction label. The campaign should neither be built entirely on the felony charges nor attempt to omit such issues.

It is essential to connect with the people and demonstrate the reformations brought about after the charges through acts of public service and active campaigning.

In addition, family and friends also play a crucial role in keeping up the innate desire of the candidate and helping the felon succeed. 

Key Takeaways

This article examined whether or not a person convicted of a crime or any felon run for presidential elections. It elaborated on the nature of felonies, varied responses on suspension or grant of certain rights during imprisonment across the States, the procedure of restoration of rights, and suggestions for running a successful campaign despite felony charges. 

Native-born American felons are eligible for federal elected positions. With the proper support, mindset, and clear policies with well-defined goals, a convicted felon could triumph in a presidential election. This would be a significant step towards demarginalizing felons and reestablishing an identity and connections distinct from the criminal history.

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