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Florida’s Governor Limits the Voting Rights of Former Felons

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Lance Wissinger (left) and Neil Volz shake hands after turning in their voter registration forms at the Lee County Supervisor of Elections office on January 8th, 2019, in Fort Myers, Florida. Wissinger and Volz, both with felony records, became able to vote for the first time after a new constitutional amendment took effect.

Late on Friday evening, just before a legislative deadline, Florida‘s Republican governor signed a controversial bill that will prevent hundreds of thousands of people who have served time in prison from voting. The legislation directly conflicts with Amendment 4, a ballot measure Florida voters overwhelming approved last November that returned voting rights to Florida citizens who had been convicted of felonies and finished serving their sentences.

Civil rights advocates had hailed Amendment 4 as the solution to Jim Crow-era restrictions on felons voting that were originally designed to disenfranchise black people: In Florida, one in five black residents was ineligible to vote last year.

Over the weekend, many of those same advocates were dismayed to see Governor Ron DeSantis sign the bill, which prevents newly enfranchised felons from voting until they pay off any court-related bills they might have from their convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida promptly sued DeSantis, and the organization’s state executive director called the bill “a poll tax.” The legislation is expected to prevent hundreds of thousands of people, who are still paying off fees and restitution, from voting.

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