Thousands of Floridians voted in Amendment 4 to overturn the lifelong voting ban for ex-felons, ridding this state of a shameful remnant of Reconstruction aimed at keeping black men from voting. With their unnecessary meddling in the amendment, the Legislature and governor nullified its effects with a modern-day poll tax.
Look who’s coming to the aid of ex-felons who are being cheated out of the right to vote: prosecutors.
That’s not a joke. It’s a dead-serious effort by the state attorneys of Florida’s four largest counties to work around the barriers created by the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to, basically, obliterate the historic enfranchising effects of Amendment 4.
That ballot measure, approved by nearly two-thirds of the electorate last November, was meant to automatically restore voting rights for most former felons (not murderers or felony sex offenders) who’ve completed their sentences — voting rights largely denied in this state for 150 years. But SB 7066, which went into effect July 1, requires returning felons to pay off all court fines, fees and restitution before they are eligible to vote. With 83 percent of such obligations expected to go uncollected because of inability to pay, voting rights for most ex-felons are as out-of-reach as ever.
Enter the state attorneys.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced July 28 a plan to deal with the new law. Miami-Dade now intends to establish a “rocket docket,” in which judges will set aside some of those financial penalties. They’re able to do that because of a provision in the law that allows judges to “modify” a sentence by converting fines to community service hours or stipulating that some financial penalties won’t affect one’s voting rights.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, in his own announcement July 29, said that he is “encouraged by Miami-Dade’s approach to this issue and am optimistic that we can develop something similar in Palm Beach County that fulfills the promise of Amendment 4.”
Broward County is doing something similar. “Court fines should not get in the way of voting,” Broward State Attorney Michael Satz said in a statement. And so is Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. The state attorney there, Andrew Warren, announced a “rocket docket” allowing mostly low-level offenders to ask a judge to convert fines to community service. As in Miami-Dade, offenders who still owe restitution to a victim won’t be eligible for a waiver.
Thousands of Floridians voted in Amendment 4 to overturn the lifelong voting ban for ex-felons, ridding this state of a shameful remnant of Reconstruction aimed at keeping black men from voting. With their unnecessary meddling in the amendment, the Legislature and governor nullified its effects with a modern-day poll tax. The constitutionality of their legal mischief is being challenged, rightly, in a federal lawsuit led by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Former felons who have amply paid for their crimes with prison sentences, parole and probation deserve their voting rights automatically restored. And the 5.1 million Floridians who put Amendment 4 into the state constitution by a nearly 2:1 margin deserve to see their will fulfilled.
This editorial originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post