Behold, the world’s greatest democracy …

… where people can be denied the right to vote if they happen to be too poor to pay court costs and fines.

Randi Lynn Williams assumes she will never be able to afford to vote again.

The 38-year-old Dothan resident lost her right to vote in 2008, when she was convicted of fraudulent use of a credit card.

She was on probation for over two years, then served a few months behind bars ending in early 2011, at which point she would have been eligible to vote in most states. In Maine and Vermont, she would have never lost that right in the first place.

But in Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution.

In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

For folks like Williams, who said she regularly voted prior to her conviction in 2008, poverty is the only remaining obstacle to participation in the electoral process.

More than half of those disenfranchised felons are black, despite the fact that African-Americans made up only 26.8 percent of the state’s population as of July 2016, according to a U.S. Census estimate.

A new state law has cleared the way for people convicted of certain felonies to eventually regain the right to vote. But before that can happen, anyone who has lost the franchise in Alabama for any reason must first fulfill any financial obligations to the state and to their victims, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

I don’t know if this practice had been challenged in the courts. The right to vote should not be taken away from anyone at all under any circumstances.

In the US people who are too poor to pay driving and traffic fines and court costs and the costs of being jailed (yes, in the US you can be billed for the costs of keeping you in jail) often have their driving licenses suspended that then results in them not being able to go to their jobs to earn the money to pay off those debts, thus making the situation even worse. Depriving them the right to vote is yet another step in keeping such people down.


  1. jrkrideau says

    A few Canadian Federal elections ago the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley I believe, inaugurated the custom of having voting booths in the prisons of Canada for Federal elections. I don’t know if this extended to provincial institutions but it probably does.

    I believe he started some novel ways of getting the homeless on the voters lists, as well. I remember thinking, at the time, walking down dark allies or invading camps of the homeless seemed dicey. Canvasing a Salvation Army homeless shelter sounded a better deal.

    In Canada, it is the responsibility of the Government to register voters. Now-a-day, all sorts of methods are used to identify qualified voters but, in the old days, as soon as an election was called the Chief Returning Officer in each Riding hired all and sundry, gave them some kind of training and dispatched them to knock on ever door in the Riding and register any resident who was a qualified voter. The lists were compiled and nailed up on telephone or Hydro poles so that a person could confirm that they were on it.

  2. says

    Wealth requirements for voting rights is a tradition that goes back a long way. The rich have never been quite happy with the notion that just anyone can vote.

  3. says

    jrkrideau (#3) --

    Meanwhile, many of the three million Canadians who live abroad (e.g. me) have had our right to vote stolen by the conservatives because we committed the “crime” of living abroad more than five years. This is one of many trudeau promises that have been ignored and broken.

    People who live abroad are almost all educated and white collar. We’re likely to be informed than citizens, both about domestic events and matters of the countries we live in. One to two million voters is enough to swing an entire election. I love Canada’s insistence on getting everyone registered and not stealing the right of prisoners to vote, but this is ridiculous.

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