Disenfranchised by Debt

This report discusses how criminal disenfranchisement laws prevent millions of people from regaining the right to vote because they cannot afford criminal legal fines and fees. These laws exist in the majority of U.S. states, disproportionately impacting people of color and poorer individuals. The authors provide recommendations to counteract the disparate impacts caused by criminal disenfranchisement. 

You can read the full text of the report here.  

Key findings

  • There are 30 states that require payment of fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote: nine states have laws that explicitly require payment of fines and fees, laws in 21 states require the completion of probation or parole which includes paying fines and fees in full, and four states have both explicit and implicit disenfranchisement laws.
  • Eight states disenfranchise people for misdemeanor convictions.
  • Besides Maine and Vermont, every U.S. state and the District of Columbia enforce some form of voting restrictions on people with criminal convictions, preventing 5.85 million people from voting. 
  • Criminal disenfranchisement laws perpetuate income and racial inequality: 1 in 13 African-Americans are disenfranchised, which is four times the rate of other races. 


  • Limit interest rates and fees that stem from unpaid fines and fees.
  • Establish clear ability to pay models and include ability to pay when determining voting eligibility.
  • Limit courts’ abilities to transfer court debt to third-party collection agencies.
  • Protect the right and ability of people convicted of misdemeanors to vote while incarcerated. 
  • Ensure voter ID laws allow for use of prison-issued IDs to vote or establish systems to provide adequate ID upon release. 
  • Automatically register people with conviction records who become eligible to vote. 
  • The U.S. Department of Justice should conduct an investigation of state disenfranchisement laws. 
Allyson Frederickson and Linnea Lassiter, Alliance for a Just Society