Shadow Citizens: Felony Disenfranchisement and The Criminalization of Debt


All appellate courts that considered the restoration of voting rights for individuals with carceral debt have concluded that requiring payment of LFOs before the restoration of voting rights is constitutional, regardless of a person’s ability to pay.

Many states infringe on individuals’ rights to vote; nearly 5.58 million Americans have lost the right to vote due to criminal convictions–many of them people of color and the poor. In addition, carceral and child support debt has created legal and informal obstacles for many formerly incarcerated individuals. Four states permanently disenfranchise all felons, and 44 states have a patchwork of laws that impose waiting periods or other contingencies before restoring voting rights. This article argues that carceral and child support debt is an insurmountable obstacle to re-enfranchisement and may wither democracy as people with few economic resources are denied voting. 

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Key Findings:

  • Maine and Vermont are the only two states that do not have limitations on convicted felons voting rights.  
  • Tennessee authorizes the denial of re-enfranchisement for petitioners that are not current on child support obligations.
  • The Supreme Court’s decision in Richardson v. Ramirez affirms that states can disenfranchise anyone convicted of criminal offenses. 
  • 13 percent of all African American men have been permanently disenfranchised under state laws.
  • According to the American Bar Association, disenfranchisement is one of at least 38,000 collateral consequences that affect people convicted of crimes.
Ann Cammett
Scholarly Works