How much money do you have to pay before you cast your ballot on Election Day?
For most North Carolinians, the answer might seem obvious: none. As the cornerstone of our democracy, voting is supposed to be fair, accessible – and free. But for an increasing number of North Carolinians, the right to vote can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
How is that possible? The answer is because North Carolina denies the right to vote to people who have felony convictions but cannot afford to pay their court costs, even if they have satisfied all other probation requirements.
Thanks to an ever-growing system of mandatory fines and fees, those caught up in the criminal justice system can be forced to pay anywhere from $40 to hundreds of dollars a month for the cost of their court administration, jail fees, probation, electronic monitoring, drug testing, even community service – and more. If they are unable to pay, they face a penalty fee for nonpayment, increasing their fees and lengthening their probation period.
These costs have increased substantially over time. In 1999, the base cost a person would pay for a superior court date was $106. Today the base cost is $198 with the potential to grow to more than $10,000 in serious cases as additional penalties snowball. Even if they have served all the terms of their sentence, even if they have had no probation violations, low-income people often remain on probation simply because they are low-income. And in far too many North Carolina courts, judges will not conduct hearings on a person’s inability to pay, as is required by law.
In this year alone the state of North Carolina has spent $12 million on what they refer to as Opportunity Scholarships, which exist to help lower income families move their children from public to private schools. Of that $12 million, approximately $11 million has gone to faith-based schools and only $800,000 to secular schools.
Food stamp recipients will have their grocery store humiliation compounded by having to show a photo ID in order to buy food if Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) gets his way.
Under a bill Vitter introduced Wednesday , beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be denied their food if they are unable to show a photographic identification card at the register. For millions of low-income Americans who don’t have an official photo ID and can’t necessarily afford to buy one, Vitter’s bill would mean being cut off from their primary food source.
Estimates of how many people are without the kind of ID Vitter wants to require are a bit fuzzy, as researchers have tended to focus on the issue in the context of voting rights, but multiple surveys have found that around 10 percent of the voting public doesn’t have a state-issued ID. One survey of voting-age citizens in 2006 put the ID-less proportion of the population at 11 percent, meaning that more than 21 million people nationwide likely lack photo ID, and found that one in four African-Americans surveyed had no ID.
Gov. Chris Christie’s strong support of school vouchers today earned him the endorsement of Bishop Reginald Jackson, one of New Jersey’s most influential black ministers.
Jackson, the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council and a Newark community leader, described himself as a Democrat and noted that he endorsed Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 when Christie first ran.
But Jackson today said state Democratic lawmakers have disappointed him by refusing to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that would give children in low-performing urban schools a publicly funded scholarship to attend a private school or another public school instead.
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the Democratic candidate for governor this year, opposes the bill. Jackson called Buono a “wonderful, warm and genuine person,” then launched a scathing critique on her party.