Study: 30 states prevent formerly incarcerated people from voting based on wealth

Study: 30 states prevent formerly incarcerated people from voting based on wealth

Formerly incarcerated adults face financial barriers to restoring their voting rights in 30 states, according to a new study.

Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic and the Campaign Legal Center found that eight states “explicitly” require the payment of fines and fees in order to restore voting rights, while 20 implicitly require it. Two additional states require fine and fee payment for clemency eligibility.

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Researchers said the financial requirements amount to a “modern poll tax.”

Poll taxes were often enacted during the Jim Crow era to prevent African Americans from voting. The practice was outlawed in the 1960s.

The states that explicitly require formerly incarcerated individuals to pay fines and fees to vote are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington.

Iowa and Kentucky require fine and fee payment for clemency eligibility.

The other 20 states require disenfranchised populations to complete parole or probation to restore their voting rights. Paying off legal debts is required to complete that requirement.

Those states are Alaska, California, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center said in an interview that there was a “lack of a pattern” in the overall finding, but noted that the explicit laws were mostly in conservative and Southern states.

She said that she believes some of the laws are due to the "unfortunate" past, but that others, like a new Florida law, are “an attempt to suppress the vote.”

The report said people of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by criminal convictions than whites. One in 13 African Americans have had their right to vote revoked, compared to only 1 in 56 non-African Americans, the report said, citing 2016 data from the Sentencing Project.

"When millions of people can't vote in an election because they can't pay, that election doesn't deserve to be called fair and free,” said Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic director Aderson Francois in a statement  “And when a country tolerates this level of disenfranchisement, it doesn't deserve to be called democratic."

He noted in an interview that the country doesn't "tie the exercise of any other right to your ability to pay,” specifically alluding to freedoms of speech, religion, privacy.

Researchers cited other studies that show the fines often add to already onerous financial obligations. For example, a Florida Department of Corrections analysis found that people on probation, parole or community supervision owed an average of $8,195 in restitution, not including fines and fees.

Updated at 3:33 p.m.