In 1868, immediately following the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War and the end of slavery in the south, the State of Florida passed an Amendment to the Florida Constitution prohibiting convicted felons from voting. Convicted felons in this State have been, and continue to be, disproportionately people of color. This Amendment remained in the Florida Constitution until voters overwhelmingly voted to strike it in 2018.
Now all previously convicted felons can vote in Florida, right? Not so fast. Despite the will of the majority of Floridians, the State subsequently passed a law enforcing that outstanding court costs and fines must be paid prior to a vote being cast. This new restriction has dramatically suppressed the new voter registrations to be expected following the repealing of the Amendment.
It’s no surprise that convicted felons, by their very nature, have a more challenging time obtaining gainful employment than their non-felon counterparts. As such, many are simply unable to pay their court fees in addition to supporting their families, paying their rent, bills, and other financial obligations. And thus, the suppression of the vote continues.
Many groups have focused on this issue and support the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons in Florida. Even individuals have gotten involved such as celebrities and wealthy donors. Recently, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has raised approximately 16 million dollars to help pay the court fees of Florida convicted felons in order to allow them to register to vote.
Even before Floridians voted to change the Amendment in 2018, many other states have allowed convicted felons the privilege to vote. Additionally, those states do not require that court fees must be paid before votes may be cast. So how long will it be until Florida catches up to the progress its citizens desire? Only time will tell.