AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law
for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities


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Voting

     Election officials were not liable for failing to send an absentee ballot for voting to a detainee in a county jail. After the jail staff held a voter registration drive to encourage detainees to apply for absentee ballots, the plaintiff submitted an application, but he lacked standing to sue election officials since his application had listed his home address rather than his address at the jail. His claim that they would have refused to mail his absentee ballot to the jail address had he provided it was completely speculative. Swann v. Secretary, State of Georgia, #1014901, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 1967 (11th Cir.).
     Convicted felons in Tennessee challenged the state's voter re-enfranchisement statute, which only permits restoration of a felon's voting rights if they have paid any court-ordered victim restitution and child support payments. They claimed that putting these conditions on the restoration of their voting rights violated equal protection and the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlaws a poll tax, as well as the ex post facto and privileges and immunities clauses of the U.S. and state Constitutions. Rejecting these claims, a federal appeals court found that the challenged conditions had, at a minimum, a direct and rational relationship to the advancement of legitimate state interests, and did not violate equal protection. Further, the payment of victim restitution and child support did not qualify as the type of "tax" the 24th Amendment was intended to prohibit. Prior caselaw barred the remaining claims. Johnson v. Bredesen, #08-6377, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 22357 (6th Cir.).
     Update: As previously reported, a 2-to-1 majority of a panel of a federal appeals court ruled that a Washington state law that automatically disenfranchises convicted felons results in denial of the right to vote on account of race in violation of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973, due to racial discrimination in the state's criminal justice system. A strong dissent noted that three other federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled that challenges to felon disenfranchisement laws cannot be brought under the Voting Rights Act. Farrakhan v. Gregoire. #06-35669, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 141 (9th Cir.). The 9th Circuit, ruling en banc, has now overturned that panel decision, unanimously upholding the state felon disenfranchisement law, which dates back to 1866, before statehood. The court reasoned that inmates seeking to challenge the statute under the Voting Rights Act had to show intentional discrimination in the state's criminal justice system, rather than simply a racial disparity in the composition of the state's prison population. Farrakhan v. Gregoire. #06-35669, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 20803 (9th Cir.).
     Rejecting a constitutional challenge to Arizona's felon disenfranchisement statute, a federal appeals court ruled that states are allowed, under the 14th Amendment, to deny the vote to felons, and that this is true whether or not their offenses were recognized as felonies at common law. The court also held that a requirement that felons complete the terms of their sentences before having their voting rights restored was rationally related to legitimate state interests and does not violate the felons' constitutional rights. Harvey v. Brewer, #08-17253, 12010 U.S. App. Lexis 10822 (9th Cir.).
     By a 2-to-1 majority, a panel of a federal appeals court ruled that a Washington state law that automatically disenfranchises convicted felons results in denial of the right to vote on account of race in violation of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973, due to racial discrimination in the state's criminal justice system. A strong dissent noted that three other federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled that challenges to felon disenfranchisement laws cannot be brought under the Voting Rights Act. Farrakhan v. Gregoire. No. 06-35669, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 141 (9th Cir.).
     A prisoner claimed that new Massachusetts laws that disenfranchised imprisoned felons, violated 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971, the Voting Rights Act, in that they allegedly have a disparate impact on minorities, given that a greater percentage of minorities were incarcerated. The court found that Congress did not intend the Voting Rights Act to apply in this context, and that laws disenfranchising felons are "deeply rooted" in U.S. history and laws, and in the Constitution. The laws also do not violate the prohibition on ex post facto laws as they do not constitute punishment, since there are non-punitive purposes for the disenfranchisement, and they are a part of a civil regulatory scheme for voting. Simmons v. Galvin, #08-1569, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 17012 (1st Cir.).
     California intermediate appeals court rejects argument that the 14th Amendment's second clause, allowing states to take away voting privileges from citizens for participating in rebellion or other crimes is limited to "felonies at common law." Crime, in the U.S. Constitution, means serious offenses, or, if required by the context, any criminal offense. No historical evidence supported the notion that such disenfranchisement only is constitutionally permissible for acts of rebellion and the crimes of treason, murder, manslaughter, mayhem, rape, arson, burglary, robbery, larceny, and sodomy. Legal Services for Prisoners With Children v. Bowen, A120220, 2009 Cal. App. Lexis 72 (1st Dist.).
     While convicted felons in Tennessee who finished their sentences and satisfied the conditions of their supervised release could ordinarily have applied for the restoration of their voting rights, they were ineligible to do so when they owed either past-due child support payments or crime victim restitution payments. This ineligibility did not violate their equal protection rights since there is no fundamental right for felons to vote. A number of other related claims were also rejected. Johnson v. Bredesen, Case No. 3:08cv0187, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 80932 (M.D. Tenn.).    
     Massachusetts felon disenfranchisement laws, contained in the Massachusetts state Constitution and a state statute, did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the retroactive increasing of the penalties for a crime, or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, since they were not criminal penalties and there was a reasonable basis to disenfranchise incarcerated felons. The plaintiff incarcerated felons did, however, state a possible claim under Sec. 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973(b) on the basis of their contention that the provisions disproportionately disenfranchised African-American and Hispanic-American voters in the state, entitling them to further proceedings on that issue. Simmons v. Galvin, No. 01-11040, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 64358 (D. Mass.).
     Washington state Supreme Court, by 6-3, upholds requirement that felons, after completing their full prison terms, can properly be required to pay court-ordered fines before their right to vote is restored, rejecting a claim by three former prisoners that these provisions of state law denied them their constitutional right to vote on the basis of their lack of wealth. Madison v. State of Washington, No. 78598-8, 2007 Wash. Lexis 556.
     Federal appeals court dismisses appeal from denial of claim that New York Election Law section 5-106, denying the right to vote to incarcerated or paroled felons, violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. section 1973, finding that the plaintiff lacked standing because he was a resident of California before becoming incarcerated in New York, and therefore had never been eligible to vote in New York. Muntaqim v. Coombe, No. 01-7260, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 11167 (2d Cir. 2006). [N/R]
     The Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973, does not apply to statutes barring voting by incarcerated or paroled prisoners, because Congress did not intend for the statute to cover such provisions of state law. Hayden v. Pataki, No. 04-3886, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 11187 (2d Cir. 2006). [N/R]
     Federal appeals court, en banc, rejects claim that Florida's ban on felons voting was motivated by intent to discriminate against African-Americans. Johnson v. Governor of the State of Florida, No. 02-14469, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 5945 (11th Cir.). [2005 JB Jun]
     Federal appeals court rejects Voting Rights Act challenge to New York's felon disenfranchisement statute, removing the right to vote from currently incarcerated felons and parolees, rejecting argument that it infringes on the right to vote on the basis of race. Three-judge panel, however, unanimously suggests resolution of the issue by the United States Supreme Court. Muntaqim v. Coombe, #01-7260, 2004 U.S. App. Lexis 8077 (2nd Cir). [2004 JB Jun]
     Editor's Note: Additionally, in Farrakhan v. Washington, No. 01-35032, 338 F.3d 1009 (9th Cir. 2003), rehearing en banc denied 359 F.3d 1116 (9th Cir. 2004), a panel of the Ninth Circuit held that a claim of vote denial based on Washington State's felon disenfranchisement scheme could be pursued under the Voting Rights Act. [N/R]
     Federal appeals court orders hearing in lawsuit challenging Florida's ban on felons voting. Plaintiffs claim that imposition of ban was motivated by intent to discriminate against African-Americans. Johnson v. Governor of the State of Florida, #02-14469, 2003 U.S. App. Lexis 25859 (11th Cir. 2003).[2004 JB Feb]
     265:15 Prohibition on voting for incarcerated felons did not violate 15th Amendment; fact that many incarcerated felons were members of minority races did not prove discrimination. Jones v. Edgar, 3 F.Supp.2d 979 (C.D. Ill. 1998).
     266:30 Provision of state constitution denying the ballot to those convicted of enumerated crimes was not racial discrimination, despite intent to disenfranchise blacks when earlier version was adopted in 1890. Cotton v. Fordice, #97- 60275, 157 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 1998).
     230:30 Prisoners' suit challenging N.Y. statute disenfranchising incarcerated felons while allowing unincarcerated felons to vote stated a claim for racial discrimination under the federal Voting Rights Act resulting from alleged racial disparity in sentencing, federal appeals court rules. Baker v. Cuomo, 58 F.3d 814 (2nd Cir. 1995).

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