Washington, DC –Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) have introduced legislation that would prevent states from barring formerly incarcerated individuals from voting due to debts owed through the criminal justice system. The lawmakers unveiled the bill this week in the wake of an appellate court ruling that upheld a Florida state constitutional amendment requiring people with convictions to pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote.
“Many Black and Brown Americans are systematically denied economic opportunity and disproportionately targeted and punished by our broken criminal justice system, and the fact that Americans who serve their time are further blocked from re-integration into society by unjust and unaffordable fees is antithetical to our ideals of democracy,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “I am proud to lead this effort with Congresswoman Velázquez to end one of sadly many instances of voter disenfranchisement and bring us one step closer to a true democracy for all.”
“Voter suppression comes in many forms and rules requiring people with felony records to pay court fines and fees before voting effectively cuts off millions of Americans from their fundamental right to vote,” Velázquez noted. “These laws are essentially a ‘poll tax’, depriving predominantly people of color and low-income people of their ability to participate in our democratic process.”
In 2018, Florida voted to amend the state constitution and allow people with felony records to vote. However, the Republican-controlled legislature subsequently passed a law that conditioned the right to vote on payment of fees and fines incurred as part of a sentence. Under Velázquez and Tlaib’s bill, “The Removing Monetary Barriers to Voting Act,” states would be prohibited from requiring restitution of court fees and fines as a prerequisite to voting.
Currently, 30 states restrict the voting rights of Americans who owe debts from their involvement in the criminal justice system. Experts estimate that 10 million Americans owe $50 billion in such debt, nationwide, meaning many of them are deprived of their voting rights.
A copy of the bill, H.R. 8249, is online here.
In addition to Velázquez and Tlaib, the bill is cosponsored by: Reps. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA); Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL) Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT); Rep., Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA); Adriano Espaillat (D-NY); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). Barbara Lee (D-CA); Jim Cooper (D-TN); Ayanna Pressley (D-MA); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY); Daniel Kildee (D-MI); Bobby L. Rush (D-IL); Veronica Escobar (D-TX); Dwight Evans (D-PA); and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).