Looks like it’s up to the majority of Florida voters to help ex-felons — “returning citizens” — cast a ballot in November. The state’s Republican leaders have long made clear that it’s better for the GOP if ex-felons are denied that chance.
Unfortunately, last week, after several challenges to, and defenses of, Amendment 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed that stance of disenfranchisement. It overturned a lower court’s ruling that Floridians with felony convictions do not have to pay off all court fees and fines before voting. This means that the majority of formerly imprisoned Floridians who have outstanding fines and fees will not get to vote in November.
In 2018, almost two-thirds of Florida voters approved Amendment 4. They understood the cruel folly of blocking the path back to civil society. The more quickly former prisoners return to their families and their communities, find jobs — and have their right to vote restored — the less likely they are to reoffend and return to prison.
Denying former prisoners the vote was a shame more than a century ago when Jim Crow laws aimed to keep returning African American citizens from casting a ballot. And it’s a shame now, as Florida leaders keep alive the spirit of such a rabidly discriminatory time. State lawmakers added the fines-and-fees provision.
Fortunately, the fight’s not over, according to Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
“Our north star is returning people to their families, and we believe people should have the opportunity to participate in this election,” he told the Miami Herald Editorial Board. “No one should be forced to choose between putting food on their kids’ table and participation in elections.”
But as advocates continue the long-term battle to secure the unconditional right to vote for Floridians who were once in prison, there’s a more immediate challenge that’s bearing down: getting as many of them as possible eligible and registered to vote in November.
And that’s where Floridians, appalled that the DeSantis administration is successfully stifling both their voices and those of ex-prisoners, come in.
Volz said that on Thursday, FRRC “crossed the $4 million mark in what we’ve spent, and there are 4,000 returning citizens who have had their fines and fees paid.” That’s 4,000 out of the 774,000 more who owe fees and fines.
Those funds are because of the generosity of Americans around the state, and across the country, who know that Amendment 4 is right, and that strangling its intent is malevolent.
This has been a hellacious year for Floridians’ finances. Donate anyway, anything, to the FRRC’s fines and fees fund.
Oct. 5 is the last day to register to vote in November. We should value second chances as much as we value the right to vote.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE MIAMI HERALD