Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign a bill in the next few days that will require ex-felons to pay off court fees, restitution payments and fines before earning back their right to vote.
The move is in response to Amendment 4, which two-thirds of Florida voters approved of in November. The amendment to the state’s constitution gives ex-felons the right to vote once they have paid their debt to society. The amendment affects about 1.4 million ex-convicts living in Florida.
Some are critical of DeSantis’ expected bill because it creates more roadblocks for ex-convicts to earn the right to vote.
“There’s just no way to get around the fact that the Legislature did everything it could to undermine Amendment 4,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said to Bloomberg News. “I don’t think it’s consistent with the will of the voters, and it’s not consistent with the text of Amendment 4.”
Kubic called the bill a “poll tax.”
“This is tying your ability to vote to your ability to pay, which is a poll tax,” he said.
The amendment does not work in favor of people convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Both of those groups are not allowed to earn their voting rights back.
Florida was one of three states — along with Iowa and Kentucky — to bar ex-felons from voting if they have not gone through a lengthy and detailed clemency process.
Since the new amendment passed in Florida, about 2000 ex-convicts have inquired about regaining their voting rights through a local supervisor of elections office.
Groups like Second Chances Florida and Floridians for a Fair Democracy helped get the amendment passed last year thanks in large part to an expensive advertising campaign.
Floridians for a Fair Democracy reportedly got $27 million in donations to help get the amendment passed.
Cecile Scoon, first vice president of League of Women Voters of Florida, told Bloomberg News that the new bill would create obstacles for ex-felons, but that there will be practical ways to overcome the forks in the road.
Since court fees could be in the thousands, she said some may be able to petition a judge to waive the costs or they could work out a deal where they pay off the fees through volunteer hours, with each hour earning them anywhere from 12 to 15 dollars.
Since Florida is so crucial in presidential elections, some have argued this new amendment is a political move, but others argue that giving ex-felons the right to vote will not move the needle in any significant way in a major election.
Since only about 2000 ex-felons have even taken advantage of the amendment, no one is expecting the full 1.4 million eligible ex-felons to jump through hoops to vote again.
“That’s 2,000 people that were not eligible for it and now are eligible, and that’s a good thing,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “But in terms of moving the needle in an election, that’s a drop in the bucket.”
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