Conditioning voting rights on the payment of legal financial obligations (LFOs) may be unconstitutional if there are no exceptions for indigency. Appellate courts, though, generally have upheld felon disenfranchisement laws that withhold voting rights until all fees, fines, and restitution are paid in full. These decisions, however, have been made with limited evidence available about the type, burden, and disparate impact of criminal debt. We address this by detailing who owes LFOs, how much they owe, and for what purpose using representative, statewide samples in Alabama. The median amount of LFOs assessed to discharged felons across all of their criminal convictions is $3,956, more than half of which stems from court fees. As a result, most ex-felons remain disenfranchised after completing their sentence. People who are disproportionately indigent -- those utilizing a public defender and blacks -- are even less likely to be eligible to restore their voting rights.
One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law which allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct-level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver's license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to lacking a photo ID. To examine the law's impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver's license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.
This chapter reviews measurement technologies that have rapidly invigorated the study of judicial behavior, examining the standard approach to measuring judicial "ideal points" and discussing how such measures have facilitated broad new lines of inquiry in understanding judicial decision-making. But the measures, as this chapter explains, are no panacea. Proper use and interpretation depend critically on qualitative assumptions and understanding of underlying case law. This chapter argues that the way forward combines jurisprudentially meaningful data collection with advances in measurement technologies. These concepts are illustrated by empirically informing a long-standing debate about the effect of the Nuremberg trial on Justice Jackson’s jurisprudence.
In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor's prisons, Ms. Cleveland's case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of legal financial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland's experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the signficant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs - both within and across local judicial districts - even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.
We investigate how the restoration of voting rights affects the political participation of ex-felons. Our primary analysis uses unique administrative data from Iowa, which changed how ex-felons restore their voting rights in both 2005 and 2011. Prior to 2005, ex-felons had to apply to the governor to restore their voting rights. We show that ex-felon turnout increased after Iowa began to automatically restore these rights. Consistent with misinformation being a significant barrier to ex-felons’ political participation, ex-felons were more likely to vote if they were informed about this policy change. The application requirement was re-instated for ex- felons discharged since 2011 and we show that this reduced their 2012 presidential election turnout. We conclude by comparing the actual turnout rate of recently discharged ex-felons in Iowa, Maine, and Rhode Island to the turnout rate that Uggen and Manza’s (2002) method predicts. This comparison suggests that although restoration procedures can substantively affect ex-felon turnout, restoration procedures are not the only reason why ex-felons vote less often than observably similar non-felons.
Previous research documents widespread confusion about who can and cannot vote among people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. This research, and considerable activism drawing attention to the issue, has spurred a number of state legislatures to pass laws requiring the states to notify ex-felons about their voting rights. The purpose of this article is to better understand the policy processes that produce these notification laws and to assess whether the laws affect ex-felons’ registration and turnout rates. Data on discharges from the correctional system and voter files are merged from three states that have recently passed notification laws: New Mexico, New York, and North carolina. Our findings show little evidence of an increase in ex-felon registration or turnout after notifi- cation laws are implemented.
There are about three million cases in a national voter fie in which 2012 vote records share a common first name, last name, and date of birth. We develop a probabilistic birthdate model to estimate how many of these cases represent the same person voting twice. If registration records are never erroneously marked as being used to vote, we estimate about 0.02% of the votes cast in 2012 were double votes. An audit of poll books, however, suggests that such measurement error could explain many of these apparent double votes. Using data returned to Iowa by the Interstate Crosscheck Program, we quantify the tradeoff between voter accessibility and electoral integrity when purging a likely duplicate registration from another state. We find that one of Crosscheck's proposed purging strategies would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.
It is still unknown how many citizens are prevented from voting by strict photo voter identification (ID) laws. This is in part because there is no administrative record of who is turned away from a polling place or, anticipating as much, never shows up at all. We solve this measurement problem by studying Michigan's non-strict photo voter ID law. Michigan voters are asked present photo ID, but, in contrast to strict states, are allowed to vote without photo ID after signing an affidavit. Collecting and coding the affidavits filed in the 2016 presidential election in a random sample of precincts allows us to observe those voters who both desired to vote and lacked the ID that would be necessary to vote in a strict ID state. We find a strict photo ID law would have disparate racial impact, but on a small effect size. About 0.6 percent, or 28,000, of voters lacked photo identification. Imputing race based on surname and place of residence, we find that non-white voters are between 2.5 and 6 times more likely that white votes to lack photo ID.
After election administrators tally the ballots cast in a given election, they typically make aggregated vote totals available to the general public. These summaries have become increasingly accessible and more granular over time. Acquiring information about how many votes each candidate received in each precinct is now generally quite easy, particularly in a statewide race. But aggregating votes within a particular contest necessarily obscures information about the pattern of votes across contests. Improved voting technology now makes it increasingly easy for election administrators to also distribute the raw ballot-level data produced during the tabulation process. We show that providing researchers access to these data allows us to improve our understanding of voter behavior in a way that informs best practices in election administration.
The Legislature should eliminate its reliance on fees and take account of indigency for fines in restoring voting rights to ex-felons. In that way, Amendment 4 can lead to two triumphs: for voting rights and debt-free justice.
In the wake of last week’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday claimed that the “overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.” When asked for evidence, the senator’s campaign cited a paper we published in 2014, in which we present data on the party affiliation of ex-felons in three states.
The paper Cruz cited is one in a series of papers in which we have combined public records – from departments of corrections, state courts, and secretaries of state – to directly measure ex-felons’ party registration and turnout history. But our research does not support Cruz’s claim.