Florida is one of the relatively few states in the nation that prevents felons from regaining their right to vote – even after they have completed their sentence. If you’ve been following the subject of voter disenfranchisement in Florida over the past couple of years, you know it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
In 2018, Floridians created a ballot initiative and overwhelmingly voted to re-enfranchise ex-felons – all but those convicted of murder or sex crimes. However, just a few months later, state lawmakers put those voting rights in question once again. They chose to interpret the people’s vote as meaning that ex-felons would only regain their right to vote after paying off any outstanding fines and fees.
Such fines – known as “legal financial obligations” in Florida – can be considerable. They can include court fees, restitution and other fines. It is estimated that around 80% of felons have outstanding fines.
The new requirement essentially states that as an ex-felon, if you are in a difficult financial situation, you cannot vote. This type of income-based discrimination does not exist for any other voter in the country.
Beating the discrimination
Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has led an initiative to give ex-cons with outstanding debts the right to vote. He has worked to raise more than $16 million to help Florida ex-felons pay off their legal financial obligations – and enable them to vote in time for the upcoming election.
Bloomberg’s fundraising means that some 32,000 ex-felons will be re-enfranchised before the presidential election on November 3.
It’s an unfortunate truth that our criminal justice system tends to create real obstacles and disadvantages for convicts, even after they have served their time. Suppressing ex-felons’ fundamental right to vote is just one way that the system treats this subset of the population as less than other members of society. Working to re-enfranchise ex-felons represents one important step towards equality.