Category Archives: felon voting

Must Read and Must View Photos: “When It Costs $53,000 to Vote”

Jesse Wegman and Damon Winter for NYT Opinion:

Twenty years ago, Judy Bolden served 18 months in a Florida prison. She has been free ever since, but she is still barred from voting by the state until she pays all court fines and fees associated with her conviction.

When Ms. Bolden sat to be photographed by The Times earlier this year, she said she had received a letter informing her that her outstanding debt was a few hundred dollars. Then she checked the Volusia County website and learned that she actually owes nearly $53,000. “I was so taken aback,” she said. “I was like, What? That’s not right. I was just deflated. It’s like, when is this going to end?”

Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can’t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen,” she said. “That’s what they’re saying.”

Earlier this year we asked Floridians whose voting rights had been denied because of a criminal conviction to sit for photographs, wearing a name tag that lists not their name but their outstanding debt — to the extent they can determine it. This number, which many people attempt to tackle in installments as low as $30 a month, represents how much it costs them to win back a fundamental constitutional right, and how little it costs the state to withhold that right and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. The number also echoes the inmate identification number that they were required to wear while behind bars — another mark of the loss of rights and freedoms that are not restored upon release.

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“Mississippi voting rights case is argued at US appeals court”

AP:

The authors of Mississippi’s 1890 constitution had racist intent when they stripped voting rights from people convicted of some felonies because they chose crimes they thought were more likely to be committed by Black people, an attorney argued Wednesday in a federal appeals court.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should overturn most of Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement plan, attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued on behalf of people with felony convictions. The case could affect thousands who have lost voting rights.

“Because the 1890 provisions were unconstitutional, they were invalid from the moment that they’re enacted,”

Attorneys representing the state said Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes in 1950 and added murder and rape to the list in 1968. They said in written arguments that those changes “cured any discriminatory taint on the original provision.”

“The ultimate question for this court is whether the Mississippi Constitution’s felon disenfranchisement provision comports with the equal protection clause. It does,” Mississippi’s deputy solicitor general, Justin Matheny, told the appeals court judges.

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Pa. ends ‘prison gerrymandering’ with closely divided committee vote

From WHYY in Philadelphia:

“The commission in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania’s House and Senate maps has voted 3-2 to make a major change to the redistricting process: It will no longer count many state prisoners as residents of the districts where they’re incarcerated, but rather as residents of the districts where they originally lived.

. . . .

It fell to the committee’s court-appointed tiebreaker, longtime University of Pittsburgh law professor Mark Nordenberg, to make the decision. He noted that this is a big change in a redistricting process already marred by late census data, and the logistics will be time consuming and tricky. But ultimately, he voted for change.”

The decision does not affect federal election districts.

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“NC court grants voting rights to thousands of people on probation or parole for a felony”

News and Observer:

Judges have restored voting rights to an estimated 55,000 North Carolinians on parole or probation for a felony.

GOP state lawmakers, who were defending the law in court, plan to appeal Monday’s ruling to a higher court. But if the ruling is upheld on appeal, then people convicted of felonies in North Carolina will regain their right to vote once they leave prison.

“Everyone on felony probation, parole or post-supervision release can now register and vote, starting today,” the challengers’ lawyer, Stanton Jones, said in a text message Monday morning after the ruling came down.

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Bernie Grofman: “How Best to do Prison Population Data Reallocation, i.e., How Best to Mitigate Prison Gerrymandering?”

The following is a guest post from my UCI colleague Bernie Grofman:

There are now eleven states that committed to using data on past home addresses of prisoners and locating them for redistricting purposes not in the prison but where they had a  previous in-state address. Ten of these states will implement the change this decade, and there are several other states/redistricting commissions that are in the process of considering whether or not to  reallocate  prisoner population data. However, there are some key differences in how this reallocation is being accomplished in different states and jurisdictions, and these differences raise questions that involve both legal issues and practical complexities. The three key complications are:  (1) how to handle prison populations that do not have an in-state past address, (2) potential legal differences between how prison populations are to be treated for state legislative (or local) redistricting as opposed to congressional redistricting, and (3) differences in treatment of state and federal prisoners.

In an extended essay (nearly 7,000 words) that is available  from SSRN How Best to do Prison Population Data Reallocation, i.e., How Best to Mitigate Prison Gerrymandering? by Bernard Grofman :: SSRN , I discuss these complexities in detail and propose a best practices rule. That rule involves a recommendation that states copy the practices used in Virginia, in which the residual category of  prisoners without an in-state past address, or whose immediate past address is in a different state, be tallied at the prison. While this is not an ideal solution, it balances in my view competing representational concerns. Moreover, adoption of this rule has the practical effect that it is unlikely that state legislative district districts created with this limited tallying of prisoner population included will be so overpopulated with prisoners that even the removal of this out-of-state and unknown past home address prison population from the district would put that district in violation of  federal “one person, one vote” guidelines –at least if such districts are not excessively underpopulated relative to ideal.

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“One Year After Executive Order Restored Voting Rights To Iowans With Felony Convictions, Most Haven’t Registered To Vote”

Katarina Sostaric at Iowa Public Radio:

One year after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 Iowans with past felony convictions, about 5,000 of the newly eligible individuals have registered to vote. Voting rights advocates say the state should put more effort into reaching people to let them know they can vote.

A report from The Marshall Project in June put the number of registered voters at 5,000, and the Iowa Secretary of State’s office told IPR 4,127 people had registered as of January 29. Iowa SOS spokesperson Kevin Hall told IPR it would cost $160 to provide a more recent number.

According to Hall, 3,179 of these newly eligible voters voted in the 2020 election.

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“A Texas man was arrested on charges that he voted in the 2020 Democratic primary while on parole. He could face as much as 20 years in prison”

WaPo:

Hervis Rogers was so intent on casting a ballot in last year’s presidential primary that he waited six hours to vote, catching the attention of a CNN news crew when he became the last person to do so at his Houston polling place….

More than a year later, Rogers was arrested on charges that he voted in last year’s Democratic primary while on parole. Under Texas law, it is illegal for a felon to “knowingly” vote while still serving a sentence, including parole. Doing so is a second-degree felony, punishable with a minimum of two years and a maximum of 20 years in prison. In at least 20 states, Rogers’s alleged vote would not be a crime.

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New essay alert: “In Whom is the Right of Suffrage?”

This is my first blog post on ELB, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the revamp. I am a devout reader of the blog and very much appreciate the hard work that Rick has put in to provide this outlet for the election law community.

I wanted to blog a bit about an essay that I wrote for the joint “Reckoning and Reformation” symposium (which was graciously hosted by a number of law reviews) that I am super excited about. My contribution, forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, is entitled “In Whom is the Right of Suffrage?: The Reconstruction Acts as Sources of Constitutional Meaning.” It is on ssrn, available here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3880655.

The essay (which is short!) looks at the Reconstruction Acts that readmitted the former confederate states back into the union during Reconstruction. Scholars have long argued that these acts, which imposed certain limits on these states as a condition of readmission, are legally unenforceable, but my essay argues that the statutes still have implications for how we think about voting rights today.

Importantly, the Acts imposed limitations on southern states with respect to the voting rights of their citizens, stating that they could only disenfranchise individuals for felonies at common law. This language sheds light on the reach of the reduced representation provision of Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment and, importantly, the universe of crimes for which one can be disenfranchised consistent with the republican guarantee of Article IV, Section 4. Section 2, in particular, allows Congress to reduce a state’s delegation in the House of Representatives by removing disfranchised voters from the basis of population used for apportionment, but permits states to disenfranchise individuals “for participation in rebellion or other crime.”

Clarifying Section 2, the Reconstruction Acts specify that these states can disenfranchise their residents only for crimes “as are now [1868] felonies at common law” and not for the wide range of crimes that are currently used to disenfranchise individuals in all southern states. In other words, when states disenfranchise their citizens in violation of Section 2 and the Guarantee Clause, as informed by the Reconstruction Acts, these violations constitute an abridgment of the right to vote and render their governments unrepublican in form.

This essay has obvious implications for Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement provision (SB 7066), which requires individuals to pay all fines and fees before they can regain their right to vote after a felony conviction. In Jones v. DeSantis, the 11th Cir upheld SB 7066, but there is no mention of the 1868 Reconstruction Act in the court’s opinion, which upheld the law on the grounds that paying all fines and fees is “highly relevant to voter qualifications.” However, the fact that people are impermissibly disenfranchised for crimes that were not felonies at common law, as specified by the Reconstruction Act readmitting Florida into the union, means that the requirement cannot be relevant to voter qualifications and therefore makes SB 7066 a poll tax.

I hope that you enjoy this short read! Comments are welcome!

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“Bill restores voting rights to Washingtonians with felonies upon release from prison”

Seattle Times:

As Americans last year debated the elections, Victor Sauceda endured tough conversations with friends and others talking about their votes.

Sauceda, 31, was released from prison in October 2019, he said, after serving time for felony convictions — meaning he couldn’t vote last November.

“I just feel that shame that goes along with it, telling them I could not vote,” said Sauceda. “I felt like I was not good enough to vote.”

That dynamic changed Wednesday as Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill restoring the right to vote for Washingtonians convicted of felonies automatically upon their release from incarceration.

Under House Bill 1078, roughly 20,000 people would regain their right to vote, according to the state Department of Corrections.

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“He Fought For Voting Rights In Georgia, Then He Was Locked Up”

Johnny Kauffman for WABE:

Tariq Baiyina has lobbied politicians, shaken hands with governors, set up a college program, and delivered dozens of sermons. Despite all this, the 42-year-old has never voted. And the reason is simple: since 2002, when he was convicted of a felony, he hasn’t been allowed.

Felony disenfranchisement has become commonplace in the US, where 5.2 million people can’t vote, according to a new estimate from the Sentencing Project. While dozens of countries allow all people held in prison to vote, only two states Vermont and Maine — as well as Washington, D.C, do so in the US.  And in some states people lose their voting rights even after they’ve been released. In Georgia, where Baiyina was convicted, for example, the ban lasts through probation and parole, which can extend decades after serving time.

Black Americans, like Baiyina, are about 3.7 times as likely to lose their voting eligibility than other adults. But as the country begins to confront head-on issues of racism and inequality, more states are scaling back felony disenfranchisement. Earlier this year, Iowa became the final state to lift what had been a lifetime ban.  In Florida, voters in 2018 approved a referendum restoring eligibility to people who are off probation or parole, though it was quickly dismantled by Republicans.

When Baiyina was convicted nearly two decades ago of armed robbery and carjacking, he wasn’t thinking about how people elected to run the government might affect his life, but soon he would become part of that movement, fighting to win power for himself and others punished by the legal system. In a few years, he would grow into a leading voice against felony disenfranchisement in Georgia. And for Baiyina, the cause is about more than just winning influence over who writes laws, it’s a personal quest to escape lingering punishment, and find citizenship. A quest that his own mistakes could quickly, and dramatically, interrupt.

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“In last-minute push, DeSantis administration urges Florida election officials to remove felons who owe fines from voting rolls”

WaPo:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration delivered last-minute guidance to local election officials recommending measures that voting-rights advocates say could intimidate or confuse voters, the latest salvo in a pitched battle over who is able to cast ballots in a state crucial to President Trump’s reelection.

In a notice sent to local election officials last week, Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews urged them to remove from the voter rolls people with felony convictions who still owe court fines and fees, a move that local officials said is impossible to accomplish before Election Day.

A second memo from Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee’s general counsel recommended that election staff or law enforcement guard all mail ballot drop boxes, a step that local election officials say is not required under the law.

Election officials said they do not have time or resources to implement either measure before the Nov. 3 election, and voting rights advocates cast the back-to-back missives as the latest effort by the Republican governor and Trump ally to impede access to the ballot box.

“They’re attempting to sow confusion,” Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters Florida said of the state’s instructions. She added: “The state of Florida doesn’t have a spotless record when it come to making sure voters have easy access to the polls.”

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“Free Our Vote: Using Data Activism and Crowdsourcing to Restore Voting Rights for Former Felons in Florida”

The following is a guest post from Neel U. Sukhatme, Associate Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, and Co-Founder, Free Our Vote:

As readers of this blog might know, nearly 65% of voters in Florida supported a ballot initiative in 2018 to restore voting rights for most former felons in the state. Unfortunately, the state legislature and governor subsequently enacted SB 7066, which removed voting rights for hundreds of thousands of former felons who still owe fines, fees, court costs or restitution associated with their sentencing. Subsequent legal challenges to SB 7066 ultimately failed.

There are many legal and ethical problems stemming from this suppression of voting rights. But a more basic problem is pragmatic: most former felons cannot even find out how much they owe in fines/fees because Florida does not maintain a centralized database that tracks this information.

My colleague, Alexander Billy, and I were troubled by this. So we founded Free Our Vote, a non-partisan, non-profit organization comprised of data scientists, economists, and legal researchers that seeks to restore voting rights for former felons. Leveraging our past experience with Florida data, Free Our Vote has collected accurate fines/fees information for over 425,000 Floridians across 24 counties that comprise over 85% of the state’s population.

The data we’ve gathered has enabled us to launch a multi-media information campaign with our partners, the Campaign Legal Center and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Together, we have informed tens of thousands of former felons who owe nothing that they should be able to participate in the November election. Free Our Vote’s data-centered approach has also helped us support the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition in strategically allocating repayment of fines/fees to maximize the number of people whose voting rights are restored.

Separately, Free Our Vote is partnering with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible organization, to pay off fines/fees for Floridians with felony records. Though the support of generous donors, we will have repaid more than $50,000 in fines/fees across multiple counties, enabling Free Our Vote to restore voting rights for well over 1,000 former felons. Free Our Vote’s efforts on this front will continue up through Election Day.

Sadly, the shadow of fines/fees will continue to impact thousands more past November 3, limiting their ability to obtain a driver’s license, let alone cast a ballot. Free Our Vote will continue to work on this issue, leveraging the rich data we’ve collected and working with partners such as the Fines and Fees Justice Center to inform policymakers and redress these shortcomings in the criminal justice system.

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A Florida purge of supposed felons just before the election….where have I heard this before?

CNN:

Election officials in Florida are taking steps to remove ex-felons from the voter rolls if they still owe court debts, according to an email sent this week to county elections officials obtained by CNN.

The state’s elections director, Maria Matthews, told local elections supervisors on Tuesday that they would begin to receive files on convicted felons “whose potential ineligibility is based on not having satisfied the legal financial obligations of their sentence.” The email added that if local officials received information about registered voters who are ineligible from sources other than the Florida Department of State, “you should act on it.”

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“Statement on Florida Officials’ Plans to Remove People with Past Convictions from Florida’s Voter Roll”

Via email:

With less than 18 days until the 2020 General Election, the Florida

Division of Elections made plans to remove returning citizens who owe legal financial obligations from Florida’s voter roll in direct violation of Florida’s 30-day notice period.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. responded with the following:

“On the eve of a consequential election, Florida officials wrongfully endeavor to scare as many

eligible voters as possible away from voting. Florida’s Division of Elections intends to send whatever unreliable information it has to Florida Supervisors of Elections (‘SOEs’) to merely suggest some registered voters may owe legal financial obligations (‘LFOs’).

“Under a recent appellate court decision, Florida, for now, can require people with most felony convictions to pay LFOs arising from their conviction(s) before regaining their right to vote. Yet Florida had not removed people from the voter rolls for LFOs since the Florida Legislature undercut the will of Florida’s people and enacted a law creating this pay-to-vote system on July 1, 2019.

 “It is now long past when they are permitted to do so. The Division of Elections’ untimely effort to disqualify currently eligible voters requires a 30-day notice period and cannot be completed before Election Day. Importantly, Florida knows it can only remove an otherwise eligible voter through unequivocally credible and reliable information of the otherwise eligible voter’s outstanding LFOs. It additionally must give the voter notice and an opportunity to contest the state’s information. All of this takes time—seven days for the SOEs to review and act on the Division of Elections’ information and 30 days for each voter to participate in a hearing to contest the State’s information, which we know—and a federal trial court recognized—is flawed. In short, there is insufficient time before Election Day for any voter to be removed from the rolls under Florida state law requirements. Florida’s proposed action is simply an attempt to scare people with felony convictions away from voting and constitutes voter intimidation—par for the course in Florida.

“Yet as the Eleventh Circuit made clear: until Florida ‘complete[s] its screening’ of the 85,000 registrations it received ‘from felons who believe[d] they were re enfranchised’ at the time of trial, ‘it will not have credible and reliable information supporting anyone’s removal from the voter rolls, and all 85,000 felons will be entitled to vote.’ Jones v. Governor of Florida, No. 20-12003, 2020 WL 5493770, at *2 (11th Cir. Sept. 11, 2020).”

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“What happened to Florida’s Amendment 4? Five takeaways from our investigation”

Tampa Bay Times:

 A few months ago, we and ProPublica wanted to answer a question: How many people with felony convictions have registered to vote under Amendment 4?

Passed by nearly two-thirds of voters in 2018, the amendment was supposed to be America’s greatest expansion of civil rights in decades, allowing an estimated 1.4 million to vote. Some speculated it could swing Florida’s election in favor of Democrats.

We found that hasn’t happened. At all.

You can read the full investigation here. Here are 5 things we learned while reporting this story…

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