USP 515 Session 12 Notes

November 9th
Session Twelve: Civil Rights

Part One of this session will focus on how voting rights restoration schemes deny the right to vote to those who cannot afford to pay legal debt. Part Two will focus on Prison Abolition.


Part One: Voting Rights/Disenfranchisement

  1. Can’t Pay/Can’t Vote 
    • Poll taxes, or taxes imposed on otherwise eligible voters as a condition of voting, were abolished across the country during the 1960s, with the ratification of the Twenty‑Fourth Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Education that wealth is not germane to voting
    • felony disenfranchisement statutes, mass incarceration, and the monetization of the carceral state have combined to create a modern-day equivalent to the poll tax—one that is imposed only on those individuals caught up in the criminal justice system
    • Nearly six million individuals are denied the right to vote in the United States due to a past conviction, and, for many of those individuals, the ability to vote is contingent upon their ability to pay an increasing number of fines, fees, court costs, and restitution
    • The surest way to eliminate the impact of wealth on access to the ballot for people with convictions is to abolish felony disenfranchisement.
    • Absent abolition, the most effective way to ensure that inability to pay does not preclude ability to vote is to restore voting rights automatically upon release from incarceration.
  2. Restoring Voting Rights for Felons: Case Study of Florida
    • Amendment 4 was approved by 65 percent of Florida voters and “automatically” restores voting rights for convicted felons if they have completed their sentences, fulfilled probation requirements and paid any restitution and court costs. The amendment excludes murders and felony sex offenders but is expected to enfranchise 1.4 million people
  3. Depriving “Felons” of their Right to Vote
    • A group of voting rights advocates and felons has filed a lawsuit after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that could make it more difficult for felons to vote.
    • The amendment approved by voters said that “voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” It excludes those who have been convicted of murder or felony sexual offense.


Part One: Prison Abolition

Also recommended readings by Mariame Kaba