The Twenty – Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election…shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
In 2018, the State of Florida placed the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative on the November 2018 ballot. That initiative, popularly known as Florida Amendment 4, was a proposal to amend the Florida Constitution that sought to restore voting rights to Florida citizens who had lost their voting rights after they had been convicted of a felony. Under the Florida Constitution a Florida resident who had lost his or her right to vote because of a felony conviction continued to be banned from voting even after the completion of their sentence and other requirements such as parole and probation. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Florida Amendment 4 with 64% approving out of nearly eight million votes cast. An initial estimate predicts that 1.4 million Floridians convicted of a felony will have their voting rights restored. (Those convicted of murder or sexual assaults are excluded from having their voting rights restored under the initiative).
However, Florida Republican legislators and Republican Governor Ron De Santis, who had been opposed to the ballot initiative from the beginning, introduced Senate Bill 7066 in the state legislature that would add additional requirements to Amendment 4. Before having their voting rights restored, felons would be additionally required to pay all overdue and pending court costs, fines and fees before being permitted to register to vote in Florida. The bill passed the Florida state legislature and Gov. De Santis signed SB 7066 into law on June 28, 2019. After signing the bill, numerous non – profit groups filed suit to challenge the additional requirements. LEARN MORE
The events undertaken by Republican politicians in Florida are astonishing in their disregard for the U.S. Constitution and the majority of Florida voters who made their will known in the November 2018 election.
As discussed above, the Twenty – Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that a state may not deny a citizen the right to vote for failure to pay any poll tax or other tax. The prohibition is clear and yet Republicans in Florida went ahead with the new bill anyways. The text of the new law signed by the Governor might use words like court costs, fines or fees but there is no mistake that the law is conditioning the right to vote on whether a person first pays money up front before being allowed to register. No fine – tuning of words or a classification of fees can ever change how this transaction would eventually play out if implemented – that someone in this country would first have to give money before exercising their right to vote. That scenario is simply a violation of one of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to the constitutional questions, the bill just passed by Republicans is in direct contravention to what a majority of voters in Florida wanted. Residents of Florida were well aware of what the consequences would be if the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative was approved – that former felons would have their voting rights restored. Florida residents approved it anyways and did so in an overwhelming fashion. So why did Gov. De Santis and other Republican legislators wait until after the results of the election to add additional restrictions? Why didn’t they push for these restrictions to be added to the text of the initiative in order to have the residents of Florida have their say on them in the 2018 election? Maybe they were hoping that the initiative they had been opposed to from the beginning would not pass but that did not turn out to be the case. So now, instead of respecting the will of the voters, Gov. De Santis and other Republican politicians have decided to unilaterally impose additional restrictions that are more to their liking, albeit unconstitutional on its face and in opposition to the results of an election. These moves undertaken by the Republican leadership in Florida hint back to tactics often used by whites against African – American voters from the days of Jim Crow and speak to the levels of voter suppression that still occurs across the country in a very divisive and hostile partisan America. It is a modern day version of a poll tax and should be stricken from the books at the first opportunity. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blog post from non – profit group challenging SB in court.
- Brennan Center for Justice – comments from non – profit group on Florida poll tax.
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund – comments from non – profit group challenging SB in court.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.
Photo by David Masemore