New legislation offers Floridan convicts their voting rights back, but on the condition they pay fines in restitution prior to casting their ballot, the state governor determined Friday after signing the bill into law.
Florida Republicans Undermine Voting Rights of Former Felons
The text of the newly enacted law states that felons seeking to regain their right to vote must pay fines or restitution to victims as ordered by a court.
Republica Governor Ron DeSantis, in a signing statement, said the law “confirms that the amendment does not apply to a felon who has failed to complete all the terms of his sentence.”
However, a federal lawsuit filed Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups accused officials of denying the rights of Florida felons under the U.S. Constitution by imposing the requirement for fines and restitutions.
The legislature would limit voting rights to convicted felons who have wealth, disenfranchising many others who cannot pay their fees, civil rights groups said.
“This law will disproportionately impact Black Floridians with a felony conviction, who face the intersecting barriers of accessing jobs in a state with long-standing wealth and employment disparities,” Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement.
Over 1.5 million ex-felons reside in Florida and of them, 20 percent are African American.
Per reports from the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, the Prison Policy Initiative, the rate of unemployment for felons is 27 percent greater (or five times higher) than the state’s total rate of unemployment. Formerly incarcerated Black women shoulder the bulk of these statistics, struggling with a rate of up to 43.6 percent unemployment. This is to say Black ex-felons would have a disproportionally more difficult time to regain their civil right to vote.
In November, DeSantis opposed a ballot measure that Florida voters overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters that granted felons their right to vote after completing their sentence, with exceptions for those convicted of murder and sexual offenses, but with no monetary strings attached.
The Sun Sentinel says that among Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties alone, former felons who have done their time owe some one billion dollars in fines.
Florida felony fees are hefty, anywhere between US$5,000 and US$15,000. Added to that is 30-40 percent fee if not paid within 90 days.
Since 1976, the number of U.S. incarcerations and disenfranchisement cases have skyrocketed from 1.17 million to 6.1 million, a figure attributed to both the war on drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing policies which were introduced in the last 50 years.
Florida began barring ex-felons from voting about 150 years ago, after slaves were freed during the Civil War.