In Florida, felons are pushing to be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election without having to risk returning to jail over it. After voters approved a state constitutional amendment securing voting rights for felons in November 2018, Republican lawmakers have been determined to block the change.
A state law went into effect in July, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, that requires felons pay all court-ordered fines before being allowed to vote. The major problem? Florida apparently doesn’t have any kind of clear system whatsoever for people to see what they owe.
“Until there is clarity, as much as I want to vote, I won’t do it,” 63-year-old Florida resident Clifford Tyson told Reuters in a report published on Monday.
He added that he feared he could go back to jail for voter fraud. Tyson worked with a nonprofit legal advocacy group, but it was impossible to determine the exact amount he was supposed to pay.
Voting rights advocates argue in a lawsuit that the new rule is an illegal poll tax on felons. The case, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund, seeks to allow felons to cast ballots despite the new legislation.
“It will chill participation,” Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said of the requirement to pay off old fees.
The deadline to register for the Florida’s 2020 primary is Feb. 18. It’s incredibly dark. This one obviously terrible rule has the potential to determine the next president.
According to Reuters, from November 2018 to the end of July, 337,000 new people registered to vote in Florida, about 45,000 of whom were African Americans.
About 436,000 felons have fees to pay, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith.
Tyson’s attempt to be able to vote sounds completely infuriating. Reuters described the varying records he and his legal team found in an attempt to settle up:
Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center said the group spent weeks trying to track down what Tyson owes, but couldn’t get a clear answer.
For example, Tyson has a 1998 theft conviction in Hillsborough County on Florida’s Gulf Coast. A judgment order on the clerk’s online docket shows he was ordered to pay $661 in costs, fines and fees. But a separate subpage on the website indicates he was ordered to pay $1,066. Still another shows a total of $573. Tyson’s lawyers say no officials have been able to explain the discrepancies.
DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times in May he disagreed with the argument that the new rule was a poll tax. He said: “the idea that paying restitution to someone is the equivalent to a tax is totally wrong. The only reason you’re paying restitution is because you were convicted of a felony.”
Julie Ebenstein, an ACLU attorney, argued: “The law serves no legitimate purpose. It won’t make people more able to pay, just less able to vote.”
“Right now, the system is just a mess,” she added.