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In Alabama, A New Poll Tax Has Emerged

In Alabama, felons may regain their right to vote only after paying outstanding court fines, legal fees, and victim restitution. According to the Guardian, poverty, not degree of harm caused to the community, is what keeps most felons from regaining their right to vote. (photo credit: Josh Sager)

In Alabama, felons may regain their right to vote only after paying outstanding court fines, legal fees, and victim restitution. According to the Guardian, poverty, not degree of harm caused to the community, is what keeps most felons from regaining their right to vote. Of the more than 280,000 disenfranchised felons in Alabama, more than half are African-American. In Alabama, around 15% of voting age African-Americans cannot vote due to the state's draconian voting laws.

Alabama’s felon disenfranchisement policies are probably unconstitutional, and they have disparate impacts on felons who are poor, black, or both, according to experts. In 1964, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, but to this day in Alabama, money keeps thousands of people away from the ballot box. According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington DC-based criminal justice reform non-profit, there are 286,266 disenfranchised felons in Alabama, or 7.62% of the state’s voting-age population. More than half of those disenfranchised felons are black, despite the fact that African Americans made up only 26.8% of the state’s population as of July 2016, according to a US census estimate.

Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, said such widespread disenfranchisement amounts to “the poll tax in extreme”, and that it has a detrimental impact on the democratic process in Alabama. “I think it’s absolutely horrific. It’s a financial burden to voting, and once again, against people who are least able to pay it. It’s like a poll tax. It’s a barrier to voting. It’s a voting suppression tactic,” he said. “Rich people can buy the right to vote. Poor people can’t.”

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