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Janna Farley,

February 27, 2020

Today, House lawmakers voted to kill a bill that would have removed wealth-based hurdles for restoring the voting rights of South Dakotans with past convictions for felony offenses.

Under current South Dakota law, people with felony convictions cannot vote until they have served their prison sentence, completed their parole or probation and paid off any owed restitution or court fees. The ACLU of South Dakota supported House Bill 1245, legislation that would removes the restitution repayment stipulation for felony offenders.

Denying the right to vote based on a citizen’s financial ability is the modern equivalent of a poll tax and violates the 14th Amendment, which prohibits the government from treating certain groups of people unfairly.

“Many defendants do not have the money to pay restitution and have few legal options for raising the necessary cash,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. “In effect, restitution keeps people who otherwise have paid their debts to society enmeshed in the criminal justice system long after they’ve left prison, parole supervision or probation. House Bill 1235 would have changed the trajectory of many South Dakotans’ lives for the better by allowing people with felony convictions to vote after they have served their prison sentence, parole and probation. We’re certain this issue will come up again in future legislative sessions and we’re committed to ensuring the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people are fully restored.”

Voting plays an important role in helping individuals with felony convictions return to society. Studies have shown that when individuals with a felony conviction participate in the democratic process, they have a lower rate of subsequent arrest.

A federal appeals court recently upheld a ruling blocking a Florida law that required felony offenders pay off all legal financial obligations before their voting rights were restored. Florida state lawmakers passed a restitution payment requirement last year, after voters in 2018 passed an amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felons who completed all terms of their service.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

Decisions made during the annual sessions of the South Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights.

Based in Sioux Falls, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.