Be careful what you wish for, Florida Man! In 2018, voters in the Sunshine State passed a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their terms of parole and probation. There are 1.4 million disenfranchised adults in Florida, including 1 in 5 of the state’s black voters. And in 2018, the GOP candidates took the state house and senate race by fewer than 35,000 votes each. So naturally, the state’s Republicans swung into action.
Last summer, the Florida legislature passed a bill requiring all fines and fees to be paid before voting rights could be restored. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who beat out Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum by less than half a percent, happily signed it into law in July. Backers of the original ballot initiative immediately sued, and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle held that Florida could not use real inability to pay fines as a bar to re-enfranchisement. The state has appealed, and in the meantime, felons are being allowed to register, but not actually cast a ballot.
However, the law also provides that “a court may not be prohibited from modifying the financial obligations of an original sentence.” And it’s this provision that’s coming back to bite DeSantis in his wall-loving behind. Because in practice, the counties that are taking full advantage of this judicial “out” are heavily Democratic.
South Florida’s public radio station WLRN reports:
Out of the four counties across the state that have launched similar programs, every one of them is Democratic leaning. Those include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, together which include more than a third of the state’s total population. All of those counties voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and for Democrat Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.
There is no corollary for Republican-leaning counties.
Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez, who worked to set up a “rocket docket” for felon re-enfranchisement, told the radio station, “The estimate for Miami-Dade County is that there are about 150,000 people — that’s not just cases, that’s people — that will qualify under this process.”
And to the extent that the newly restored voters in Miami-Dade are representative, this is not a big cohort of Trump supporters.
“The next election is gonna be fun. Hooo boy is it gonna be fun,” Andre Williams told WLRN. “Changes are gonna be made. Donald Trump? Hmm. Toodle-oo. I’ll put it like this: you send your own companies into bankruptcy, you won’t send this country into bankruptcy.”
“I feel excited about moving forward in life,” said Cynthia Cray. “We got Donald Trump in that presidency. We can’t keep having that foolishness. I vote because I don’t want another Trump.” She immediately filled out a voter registration card.
For the GOP legislators’ part, they insist the uneven participation in judicial fine waivers proves that the law was never intended to disenfranchise Democrats, much less depress minority voting.
“If I’m trying to suppress the vote, and if I am Jim Crow Jamie, why did I create the waivers that Democrats have been turning around and using? Which one is it?” state Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa insisted. “If what the effect of what I passed flips the state blue — so be it, I’m good with that. I did my job.”
Or it could be a sign of crappy draftsmanship leading to unintended consequences. Hard to say, really. Who can tell?
People Across Florida Are Getting Their Voting Rights Back. Few Republicans Could Benefit [WLRN]
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