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Report: MO Voting Rules Disadvantage Low-Income Voters

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Monday, July 29, 2019   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A new report shows 30 states, including Missouri, deny people the right to vote based on their inability to pay fees and fines associated with parole and probation.

The report, by Georgetown University and the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, is called "Can't Pay, Can't Vote: A National Survey on the Modern-Day Poll Tax." Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, said two states permanently disenfranchise people who have been convicted of a felony, but Missouri and 19 other states only restore the right to vote once people are done with parole or probation.

"And so you can end up on supervision for much longer simply because you're unable to pay,” Lang said. “And that will, in turn, ensure that you're not able to restore your voting rights until much later because you're unable to pay."

Lang said these laws sometimes can be turned into a political weapon. Last year in Florida, almost two-thirds of voters passed a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote to people with past convictions. Then the Legislature redefined "all terms of sentence" to include the payment of legal financial obligations. Supporters of that law argue the requirement is necessary to motivate people to pay off their court debt.

Lang noted these rules disenfranchise millions of low-income Americans, particularly people of color.

"Representatives are responsive to their voters,” she said. “And so when we cabin their voters to a certain class of people, sometimes the people who are historically disenfranchised in a number of ways are doubly disenfranchised by this system."

The report estimated 10 million Americans owe more than $50 billion in fines and fees related to criminal convictions.


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