A federal court struck down a Florida law on Sunday that would have denied voters the ability to participate in the 2020 election because they are unable to pay legal financial obligations imposed by the criminal justice system.
That order follows an appeals court ruling holding that it is unconstitutional to deny the right to vote solely because of unpaid legal debt for those who cannot pay. It is established law that states cannot discriminate against voters on the basis of wealth. This is now binding precedent in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Alabama’s federal courts.
Alabama uses a similar scheme to Florida’s that restricts voter eligibility on the basis of unpaid fines and fees – making no exception for people that are genuinely unable to pay. Of the estimated 135,579 individuals with disqualifying felony convictions between 1993 and 2019, nearly 100,000 – or nearly 3% of the citizen voting age population of Alabama – owe outstanding legal financial obligations.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed in federal court to block Alabama’s law. CLC is defending Alabama voters Treva Thompson of Huntsville and Darius Gamble of Gardendale, who are seeking the right to vote, as well as Greater Birmingham Ministries, an organization that helps Alabama citizens with felony convictions, serving low-income and historically disenfranchised communities.
Our clients meet all the requirements for regaining their right to vote except that they lack financial means.
The case is called Thompson v Alabama.
Alabama disenfranchises individuals with certain felony convictions, so-called “crimes of moral turpitude.” The list of convictions “involving moral turpitude” includes a number of non-violent crimes, including Mr. Gamble’s non-violent drug offense and Ms. Thompson’s non-violent theft conviction.
Citizens with these disqualifying convictions may request to have their rights restored, but only after paying all court ordered fines, fees, and restitution, the equivalent of an insurmountable poll tax for many otherwise eligible voters.
Inability to pay should never be a barrier to the ballot box. They’ve served their time and paid their debt to society, so they should not have their rights denied.