Florida Republicans Seek to Suppress Voting Rights for Former Felons

Amendment 4 is meant to allow felons to vote after they have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society.

From the beginning, not allowing Floridians with a felony history to vote disproportionately affected Black people. More than 20 percent of Black adults aren’t able to vote in the state of Florida without Amendment 4.

Amendment 4 unimpeded would allow over 1.5 million people, about 10% of Florida’s population, to vote again.

Now Republicans in the Florida House have attempted to derail the amendment altogether by creating new obstacles to restoring ex-felons’ voting rights. In doing this, they are also ignoring the will of the people. Amendment 4 passed in November with almost 65 percent of the vote.

Republicans voted 10-5 in the House on Tuesday in favor of the bill to restrict who can vote.

Republicans say there needs to be an implementation bill and a “clarification of the language.”

However, the ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Commission, the Orlando-based group that led the push for the amendment, have both said the amendment was self-implementing and didn’t need a clarification or an implementation law.

In the bill pushed by Republicans and rejected by Democrats this week, it requires that court fines, fees and other “financial obligations” such as civil court judgments would have to be paid in full before voting rights are restored. The bill also adds another obstacle by requiring that parole or probation also be completed.

But fines, fees and obligations like parole and probation can be arbitrarily added well after a judge’s official sentencing.

“To allow a government employee or financial institution to determine whether someone can or cannot vote is not a good idea,” said Neil Volz, political director of the rights commission.

Kirk Bailey, political director for the ACLU of Florida, said the bill “will inevitably prevent individuals from voting based on the size of one’s bank account.”

The bill also placed the responsibility on county supervisors of elections to determine whether a voter applicant can’t vote. The bill requires the departments of State and Corrections to share voter information, including their felony history.
Republicans want to water down the legislation because having that many new voters, a large percentage of them Black and likely to vote Democratic, could majorly affect future elections in the swing state.

Even a federal judge declared Florida’s former procedure for restoring voting rights to felons to be unconstitutional. It required felons who wanted to vote again to beg the governor and his Cabinet for the restoration of their voting rights.

Former Republican Governor Rick Scott used his “extraordinary authority” to slow down to a trickle the number of felons, a majority of them black, who had their voting rights restored. From 2011 until 2018, Scott restored voting rights to just over 3,000 people.

When Democrat Charlie Crist was in office for only one four-year term, he restored voting rights to more than 150,000 people.