Florida Republicans Want To Restore Voting Rights To Rich Felons Only
Last November, 65 percent of Floridians voted to pass Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to felons not convicted of murder or rape, so long as they had completed their sentences. This was a pretty big deal given that Florida leads the nation in felon disenfranchisement, with 10 percent of the state's voting age population and 21 percent of all black people of voting age barred from voting due to a past conviction.
But, as with everything, Republicans had to step in and make it shitty.
The version of the amendment cleared by Florida's Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday included a provision that would require felons to pay all fines, fees and victim restitution before getting their voting rights back. This means that if you are rich and a felon, you get to have more rights than a felon who is too poor to pay those fines. It's sort of like poll tax! Which would be a violation of the 24th Amendment, but that's not the Second Amendment, so we're not even sure it's still on the books.
As Daily Kos writer Stephan Wolf pointed out Monday on Twitter, Florida would not be the only state with this requirement.
Alabama, a state with a notably shitty criminal justice system whose initial felony disenfranchisement laws were literally created to keep black people from voting, also requires felons to pay all fines related to their conviction before they are allowed to vote again. The result of this is that even with felon reenfranchisement, 7 percent of the state's voting population cannot vote, and 15 percent of all black people of voting age cannot vote.
Shockingly enough, the version of the amendment cleared by the Florida Senate was several times less gross than the version initially passed by Florida's House. That one would have barred those with three convictions for prostitution from voting and also required felons to pay all fines and fees that have been converted to civil judgments.
There are also major issues with these fines, fees and victim restitution payments to begin with. In A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor, sociologist Alexes Harris argues that these fines are little more than a way of continuing to punish formerly incarcerated people once their sentences are over. People can't pay the fines, they get charged interest on the fines, and they end up back in prison because they can't pay the fines. To make one's voting rights contingent on being able to pay these fines is both appalling and classist as hell.
Currently, there are only two states in the country, Maine and Vermont, in which felons have the right to vote while they are incarcerated (as they very well should), and 14 states in which voting rights are restored automatically after one's sentence is up. There are still three states, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, that ban felons from voting for the rest of their lives -- although Virginia's governors have taken to restoring the voting rights of felons en masse on their own. While a recent bill to restore felon voting rights in Iowa failed, Governor Kim Reynolds has vowed to try again next year. There is currently a bill in Kentucky's state legislature that would restore voting rights, but with Matt Bevin as Governor, passing it is unlikely.
Once someone has "done the time" for whatever crime they committed, it should be over (with the exception of sex offender registries, although honestly I believe those should be limited exclusively to those convicted of non-statutory rape or child molestation). There should not be additional fines that they can't pay because they've been in jail for however many years. They should be able to live just as any other citizen in this country. That should include voting, it should include being eligible for occupational licenses, and they should not have to disclose whether or not they were ever convicted of a felony on a job application. Let people live their damn lives.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse