Alabama Blocked A Man From Voting Because He Owed $4

Written by Ann Brown
Alfonzo Tucker Jr. went to the polls in 2018 to vote in the midterm elections in Alabama and he was denied his vote because he owed $4 to the state. Photo: Flickr.

Alfonzo Tucker Jr. went to the polls in 2018 to vote in the midterm elections in Alabama and he was denied his vote because he owed $4 to the state.

Tucker Jr. is just one of the millions of Americans who have deprived of their democratic right.

“The US is founded on the promise of democracy and fair representation, but it is also the country where minorities are frequently disenfranchised for political gain. Among the most vulnerable are millions of Americans, disproportionately African Americans, like Tucker, who have been entangled in America’s racially-biased criminal justice system, and lose civil liberties like voting as a result,” The Guardian reported. 

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Alabama is one of 30 states in which people with felony convictions must pay back the financial obligations associated with their sentences before they can vote again.

“The specific policy that had ensnared Tucker dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Alabama leaders, openly seeking to preserve white supremacy, stripped anyone convicted of a crime of ‘moral turpitude’, among other offenses, of the right to vote,” The Guardian reported.

“What is it that we want to do? Why, it is within the limits imposed by the federal constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state,” John Knox, the chair of the convention, said at the time. “If we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law – not by force or fraud.” 

According to Tucker, the legacy discriminatory policies still affect people like him today.

“I read about the challenges during the ‘60s, ‘50s, that Black people had to overcome just to vote,” Tucker said. “It’s the same thing going on in 2020.”

When Tucker was released from prison he rebuilt his life, working at steel factories and in maintenance. And along the way, he repaid the approximately $1,600 that the court had ordered him to pay. He also expanded his family with two more children and joined the Nation of Islam.

“Before his conviction, Tucker had never voted. But in prison, Tucker had read about Medgar Evers, who fought for equal citizenship and was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963. When he got out, he started regularly voting in elections. He and his wife Narkita would bring his young children into the voting booth with them, wanting to teach them about the importance of a single vote, and the long struggle African Americans had faced to gain access to the ballot,” The Guardian reported.

In 2013, Tucker received a letter from state officials saying he could no longer vote. A few years later, another letter followed but it was addressed to his son, Alfonzo Tucker III, who had just turned 18, and claiming that he too was ineligible to vote. The younger Tucke didn’t have a criminal record. The letter was sent by mistake and Tucker got his son registered to vote. 

Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Tucker decided to find out more about his voters’ rights. He called up the Alabama board of pardons and paroles to discuss his case. Two weeks later, the board sent him a letter saying he still owed $135.10 the state in connection with his conviction.

Tucker borrowed money from his sister to pay off the debt.

“But just when he thought it was settled, a courthouse clerk told him he owed money for another decades-old criminal offense – an additional $5,535.47 which she said he had to pay back to gain back his vote,” The Guardian reported.

Tucker then reached out to Blair Bowie, an attorney at Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, DC, voting rights group. Bowie discovered Alabama officials had made a mistake.

“Under Alabama law, people with felonies only have to pay off the money originally assessed as part of their criminal conviction to regain their voting rights. By 2018, Tucker had paid back most of what he owed. But, unbeknown to him, the state had added an additional debt of $131.10, a fee that was irrelevant to whether he could vote because it was not part of his original conviction. And the $5,535.47 debt was from a misdemeanor offense, Bowie saw, which does not cause someone to lose their voting rights in Alabama,” The Guardian reported.

The only amount Tucker owed still was $4.

“What is voter suppression if not officials wrongly telling you that you can’t vote?” Bowie said. “That’s been a classic way of disenfranchising people, particularly in Alabama.”

So after he paid the $135.10, Tucker drove two hours to Montgomery, the state capitol to hand-deliver the receipt to a staffer at the board of pardons and paroles.

The elections came and went, and Tucker still wasn’t allowed to vote.

Bowie sent Tucker to John Paul Taylor, an organizer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who followed up with the board and got Tucker registered to vote in 2019.

“Here’s a very clear example of a person who has jumped through every single hoop that you’ve given them and they’re still being denied because of something that they really don’t even know about,” Taylor said.