Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether 2018’s Ballot initiative, Amendment 4 (relating to restoration of voting rights to some convicted felons), could tie financial obligations to voting rights. They seemed inclined to say the state could.
Last year, Florida citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons who have served their sentences. As the majority impacted by decades of disenfranchisement celebrated, the Florida legislature said ‘not so fast’. They wanted to include payment of all court costs and fees in the “completed their sentence” part and not restore voting rights to those who have been unable to cover those.
A study prepared for the case determined that 80 percent of felons who have completed their time behind bars have some sort of outstanding financial obligations associated with their crimes. Some will never be able to get out from under their obligation.
As we are all aware, Amendment 4, excluded persons convicted of murder or sex offenses. So why should our population care about the outcome of this case if Amendment 4 didn’t benefit us anyhow?
If the Supreme Court ties financial obligation to their voting rights, 80% of those who were slated to have their rights automatically restored go back into the queue to have to petition for clemency. Essentially a years (if not decades) long process in which you have to beg the Governor and clemency board for restoration and they can arbitrarily deny you.
According to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, Florida has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases to be reviewed. Had voting rights been automatically restored for 4/5th of those, our population would have moved up to the top of the list, now it seems we’re going back to the end of the line.