Ex-felons in Florida can vote but not really

Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash

On Wednesday, April 24, 2019, the Republican-dominated Florida House voted 71–45 for a bill that restores voting rights to convicted felons except for felony sex offenders and murderers.

Eh, sort of.

In November of 2018, nearly two-thirds of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that gave this right back to certain ex-felons. It was seen as a huge victory and marked a cosmic change to come once these 1.5 million voters were able to cast a ballot.

It was a significant step for the case that ex-felons should be able to vote in all of America once released. Currently, ex-felons can’t vote for a specific period after release in 22 states and can’t vote indefinitely in 12 states depending on the crime.

It even served as a moment that brings up the more significant issue of how citizens are integrated back into society once released from imprisonment.

Then, reality hit.

In that bill, the bill that was supposed to be built on restoring voting rights, it states that ex-felons must pay criminal fees before they can vote.

Pay?

Getting a job as an ex-felon isn’t exactly easy and getting a job that pays a decent wage? Unlikely.

Finding a job that pays enough for you to pay back potentially hundreds of thousands in court fees, fines, and restitution? Not happening.

Why

That’s exactly what Florida House Republicans are banking on. There’s a low probability that many of these potential voters will ever pay back those fees soon. With a society that isn’t too keen on hiring convicted felons, the architects of this bill put a stipulation in place they know will make it needlessly difficult.

Okay, you can vote, but only after you jump through 100 flaming hoops.

The right to vote might seem like an unworthy venture to pursue after the more immediate priorities of finding employment, securing housing, and meeting the conditions of probation or parole.

Debt to society

When is the debt repaid?

The entire premise of a prison sentence is to punish the individual, make them pay back their debt to society, then rehabilitate them to integrate them back into that society where they can become productive, law-abiding citizens.

That isn’t the case.

So, after ex-felons have ‘paid their debt’ they literally have to pay with hard cash?

Theory

This bill isn’t exactly what was on the books in November 2018. If it was, it’s certainly possible that the outcome would have been different.

It highlights the difference between voting for specific, outlined legislation and an idea or theory that voters want to see translated into law.

Brexit was a vote to leave the European Union. Yes or no. In or out. Now, over two years later, the U.K. is feeling the consequences of voting for an exit plan with no clear exit strategy.

It appears that this bill subverts the will of the Florida voters who chose to see the voting rights of this class of ex-felons restored.

It contains a hurdle for which voters didn’t ask.

What’s next?

There is a chance that a judge can wave the fees which would make voting a possibility. The likelihood of that happening on any scale at all remains to be seen.

Now, the bill goes to the Senate where there is already a similar bill pending.

If it walks like voter suppression, talks like voter suppression…