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Convicted Felons With Unpaid Child Support Lose Voting Right

For many, getting a divorce is time consuming and comes at a great cost to both parties. Following the divorce, there can be additional monthly costs that one parent pays to the other such as restitution and child support. These payments are court ordered and must be paid to the receiving spouse.

Recently, a Tennessee law was challenged on the grounds that it discriminated against indigent members of society. The law requires that convicted felons must pay financial obligations like child support before they are allowed to vote. Three felons claim that the law violates their constitutional right by giving them a financial prerequisite before they can vote.

The federal appeals court held that the law was valid because it furthered the interests of the state to have convicted felons comply with court orders. Requiring felons to fulfill their obligations first was just supporting that interest.

One judge disagreed. She wrote in the dissent that the law unfairly prevents people with less money from voting. The convicted felons often do not even have enough money to pay their child support obligations. If they are unable to pay child support, should that bar them from being able to vote?

The dissenting judge does not think that should prevent convicted felons from voting. If only wealthy convicted felons could pay their child support, the election process is missing a voting constituency. Is this law creating a voting system that accounts for only the wealthy citizens?

While the court is upholding the validity of the law, the majority suggests that if the law were to change, the change must come from the legislative branch and not from the courts.

Source: courthousenews.com, "Court Backs Tennessee in Felon Voting Rights Case," Annie Youderian, 3 November 2010

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