For Immediate Release
ACLU Argues Before Ninth Circuit That Right to Vote Be Restored to Former Felons in Arizona
Individuals With Felony Convictions Who Have Served Terms of Prison, Parole and Probation Disfranchised for Money Owed
PHOENIX - The
American Civil Liberties Union is arguing before the Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals today that the right to vote should be restored to
people with felony convictions in Arizona who have served their terms
of prison, parole and probation but are disfranchised because they owe
money to the state or because they committed certain offenses not
commonly considered serious felonies.
The ACLU charges that requiring some individuals to bear an undue
financial burden before voting is tantamount to a poll tax in violation
of the constitutional right to vote and the Fourteenth Amendment's
equal protection clause and is asking the court to reverse a lower
court's dismissal of the case.
"No one should be denied the right
to vote because they are not affluent," said Nancy Abudu, senior staff
counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Requiring a person with a
criminal conviction to pay a fee before restoring their right to vote
is nothing more than a modern day poll tax and discriminates against
people on the basis of their economic status. This locks citizens out
of the democratic process when it comes to issues of great concern to
them. The result is that the political power of poor people is further
diminished and the collateral consequences of poverty multiply."
Under current Arizona law,
individuals who commit felonies are stripped of their civil rights,
including the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for some public
offices. These civil rights are not restored - even after release from
prison and completion of parole and probation - unless they have paid
all of their legal financial obligations to the state, including docket
and filing fees, court costs, restitution and costs of incarceration,
including interest on these debts.
"Stripping low-income citizens of
their basic right to vote has no place in a functioning democracy,"
said Dan Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona Legal Director. "Even when people
have completed their prison time and have been released back into
society, our state puts up barriers to voting - barriers that are based
strictly on economics."
Arizona also denies the right to
vote for the great number of persons convicted of drug offenses in the
state. The ACLU argues that Congress only intended to allow the
disfranchisement of felons convicted of serious "common law felonies"
such as murder and treason and that there is no constitutional
exception that would allow automatic loss of basic voting rights for
drug-related crimes or other acts not considered serious felonies.
"The proportion of the population
that is disfranchised by Arizona's felon voting ban has been
exacerbated in recent years by the government's misguided 'war on
drugs,'" said Abudu. "It has become common practice across the country
for states to expand the list of disfranchising felonies. The end
result is that thousands of people are losing their political voice and
being deliberately shut out of the democratic process."
Arizona's felon voting ban is one of
the strictest in the nation, with one of every 23 citizens unable to
vote. The state maintains the eighth highest rate of disfranchisement
in the nation. An estimated 176,103 persons are disfranchised in the
state as a result of a felony conviction. Forty-four percent of these
persons have completed their sentences.
Attorneys on the case, Rubio et al. v. Brewer et al., are Abudu and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona.
For more information on the ACLU's public education, legal and legislative efforts on ex-felon voting rights, go to: www.aclu.org/votingrights/
A copy of the legal complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.