For Black History Month, I highlighted Florida’s Amendment 4. Amendment 4 was a historical moment in November’s mid-term elections that granted over a million formerly incarcerated felons the right to vote. Even in a predominately Republican state 64% of Florida voters, myself included, voted to give felons back their right to vote. While the amendment was rather broad, it explicitly stated that the right to vote would not be returned to those who had been convicted of murder or rape. Now Florida’s government has been tasked with trying to interpret the amendment as it becomes law.
The state of Florida is always a toss-up in the general election. While the state will usually vote Republican, it is not always a guarantee. Florida’s Republican-controlled state legislature has been trying to find different ways of not losing control of their state in the upcoming general election. One of the ways in which they are trying to stop former felons from getting the right to vote is by requiring them to pay back any legal fees that they owe the state. For many, this would completely disqualify them from ever being able to vote. It is a shameless ploy to continue to deny voting rights to a group of people who have already served their debt to society. Many former felons have hundreds of thousands of legal fees that they owe to the state. Paying off these fees will take years if not an entire lifetime.
Voter disenfranchisement disproportionately affects people of color and men as those are the highest number of individuals who find themselves in our prison system. People of color have historically voted for the Democratic party; Florida is a majority Republican state. It’s not surprising that Florida’s state legislature is trying to stop a million people from possibly being able to vote, but it’s unacceptable. Our government works for us, not the other way around. If the majority of Florida voters voted for this, then it needs to come to pass without being stopped at every turn.
Requiring former felons to pay back their legal fees is akin to tactics used during the Jim-Crow era. Tactics such as a voter registration tax or a literacy test that was impossible to pass. In this day and age, these types of stall tactics have no place in our discourse. I’m sure that the bill will pass, if it hasn’t already. It’s painful to know that our rights can be trampled on all because legislators would prefer to see their party win an election. However, it is up to the citizens who voted to hold our government accountable to uphold the laws that we want. We can’t stop at voting. We must go town halls and write our local legislators. I too have been apathetic when it comes to my interest in politics, but that has to change.