My theme as chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice for the 2022–23 bar year is economic justice. I believe that a civil rights agenda without an economic agenda is like clapping with one hand. As the 2022 midterm election approaches, it is particularly timely to focus our attention on the economics of voting rights and the role money plays in our body politic. I want to sincerely thank the authors of this edition of Human Rights magazine for helping me realize my vision of economic justice in the context of voting rights.
Money and wealth have always been implicit or explicit characteristics in American politics. The founding fathers believed that only property owners were entitled to the right to vote. When the Twenty-Fourth Amendment was ratified in 1964, five states still retained a poll tax by state law: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. For nearly 100 years, these and other states used poll taxes to deny former slaves and poor whites the right to vote in this country.
The article “How Inequality Impacts Voting Behavior” addresses the correlation between income and voting. Sadly, people with higher incomes have an easier ability to participate in voting. Another article tells the story of how difficult it can be to vote if someone does not have the option to take off from work or leave work early to vote on Election Day. Also, if one truly understands the relationship between poverty and crime, laws that disenfranchise felons from voting should be viewed with a suspicious eye.