In 30 States, Ex-Offenders Who Still Owe Fines or Fees Have Their Voting Rights Restricted

This op-ed, written by Karin Martin Anne Stuhldreher, is cross-posted from the Washington Post.

Forty-eight-year-old Treva Thompson won’t be voting on Election Day. It’s not that she’s turned off by the choice of candidates. It’s that she can’t.

She owes around $8,000 in fines and fees, plus more than $30,000 in victim restitution related to her felony theft conviction in 2005. And she’d have to pay it all off before starting the process to have her voting rights restored. A herculean task, she explains, because she often doesn’t “even have money to get gas to go look for a job.” Speaking for individuals with criminal histories and debt, Thompson says: “We shouldn’t lose our rights as if we’re nothing.”

She’s the lead plaintiff in a voting rights case aimed at preventing the state of Alabama from “barring any ex-offenders from voting on the basis of their past felony convictions — or their inability to pay ‘any legal financial obligations’ as a result of their incarceration.” Alabama is one of 30 states that restrict the voting rights of those who owe debts from their involvement in the criminal justice system. An estimated 10 million Americans owe $50 billion in such debt.