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Felony Financial Disenfranchisement

Gaurav Bagwe, Neel U. Sukhatme, and Alexander Billy
Vanderbilt Law Review
February 2023
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Before they are eligible to vote, individuals with prior felony convictions may have to—as terms of their sentences—pay fines, fees, and/or restitution. This practice is called felony financial disenfranchisement. Some proponents posit that returning citizens must satisfy these financial obligations to restore themselves as community equals, and others claim low rates of voting among those with convictions imply such disenfranchisement is inconsequential.

Senior Economist Gaurav Bagwe and his co-authors challenge both claims. In “Felony Financial Disenfranchisement,” they draw on new empirical and contextual evidence from Florida. Using a range of causal empirical methodologies, including natural experiments and quasi-experimental methods, they find that the evidence shows the justifications behind felony financial disenfranchisement do not survive scrutiny. First, they find that felony financial disenfranchisement deters many otherwise qualified voters with felony records from voting by creating uncertainty around voter eligibility. Second, they find that relieving the debt of those who owe fines or fees significantly increases their likelihood of voting.

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