PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Democrats and Republicans in Florida, one of the most important presidential election battlegrounds in the country, are on disagreement over felon-disenfranchisement laws, which some historians argue have racist origins.
The issue affects an estimated 1.4 million former convicted felons’ ability to vote in November. Neil Volz, the deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said he is worried about the partisan undertones that he believes have gotten in the way of the restoration of voting rights.
“People with past felony convictions in the state of Florida represent all walk of life, represent all communities,” Volz said during This Week In South Florida, adding that “nobody was thinking about partisan politics” when the movement to restore felons’ rights started with petitions.
Florida 2018 midterm voters decided some ex-felons should be able to vote by approving Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that only banned felons convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. It’s unclear how many ex-felons will end up registering as Democrats or Republicans since the litigation could take years.
After the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis limited Amendment 4, Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused Florida Republicans of trying to establish a “poll tax” and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.
“The spirit of Amendment 4 transcended right or left,” Volz said. “It was really about just people being people and loving their neighbors and their friends ... It was really founded on the simple premise that, you know, when a debt is paid, it’s paid.”
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court’s three-judge panel sided with 17 former felons, who are pushing back on requirements that would only allow ex-felons who aren’t poor to vote.
"The continued disenfranchisement of felons who are genuinely unable to pay [court costs] and who have made a good-faith effort to do so, does not further any legitimate state interest that we can discern,” the judges wrote in their unanimous opinion based on the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition didn’t join any of the lawsuits, but the organization has a fines and fees fund to help felons who want to register to vote. For more information, click on this link or call 1-877-698-6830.
COURTS: (Feb. 19, 2020) Lawsuit filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis