More than 2,000 felons registered to vote in the first three months of this year under the terms of Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights for most felons who have completed their sentences. That’s 99 times more registrations than normal, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. Then the Florida Legislature got involved, creating an uneven, confusing and restrictive system that will suppress the vote of minorities and the poor if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs SB 7066 into law as expected.
Need proof that this Republican bill echoes Florida’s sorry Jim Crow past? The Brennan Center found 44 percent of the ex-offenders who registered in the first three months of this year are black. (Only 13 percent of the Florida electorate is black.) The Legislature’s unnecessary restrictions will hit the poor hard, too. The felons who registered earlier this year “tended to be much lower income, have less college education and come from neighborhoods with higher unemployment than the rest of the state’s voters,” according to the Brennan Center’s analysis. In short, “black and low-income returning citizens are dramatically impacted by this new legislation.”
This embarrassing legislation that would require all restitution, fines and court fees to be paid before voting rights are restored has no place in the nation’s third-largest state. Amendment 4 passed with nearly 65 percent of the vote in an enlightened rebuke of Florida’s racially biased, punitive clemency process, giving the promise of voting again to more than 1 million felons. Floridians now know the detailed retrograde effect of the bill. So does the governor. He can’t pretend he doesn’t know the consequences of signing this voter suppression bill into law.