Gov.-elect Ron Desantis recently said he believes the Florida Legislature should have time to take a closer look at Amendment 4, which voters overwhelmingly passed as a ballot amendment last month with 64% of voter support. The amendment restored the voting rights of non-violent felons who previously have not had the right to cast a ballot in the state.
According to Desantis, the legislature needs to add “implementing language” to the law, which takes effect Jan. 8.
The legislature doesn’t even convene until March.
Many backers of Amendment 4 saw Desantis’ statement, and similar others from GOP officeholders in state government, as a sign that felon voting rights will be delayed or even derailed by Republicans, who lost several seats statewide but managed to barely hang on to win the governor’s and U.S. Senate contests in the recent 2018 midterm election.
Amendment 4, as with any amendment, is designed to circumvent the legislative process. It is how citizens take an issue straight to the voters when the legislature and governor have typically failed to act themselves.
The sticking point for the new amendment, however, which gave an opening to opponents of the measure, is language that says that ex-felons would be able to vote under the condition that “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation” have been completed. That is where things get sticky.
That language means that, technically, a former felon who could not afford to pay exorbitant court fees that are automatically levied upon conviction may not be able to vote until those fines–which have no statute of limitations–are paid, since paying fines could be interpreted as being part of any sentence.
Some call that a poll tax, something from the South’s ugly and violent slavery and Jim Crow eras in which mostly Black, poor people were charged fees to cast a ballot. It was designed to disenfranchise–and it worked.
“A poll tax was not the intent of voters, and it could devastate voter restoration”, wrote Scott Greenberg recently in The Orlando Sentinel.
“When our organization looked at court records in South Florida for 100 people who received a disenfranchising sentence in 1998 — 20 years ago — at least 92 still owed an average of roughly $500”. Greenberg is the executive director of the Freedom Fund, helped which advocate for 4’s passage.
Meanwhile, supporters of 4 are hoping the state’s elections supervisors will go ahead and register former felons as soon as Jan. 8 arrives.