Protecting a Fundamental American Right

The state of Florida attempts to once again disenfranchise 1.5 million citizens.

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Protecting a Fundamental American Right

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In the state of Florida, a recently passed bill threatens to subvert the will of the people, perpetuate racial injustices, and restrict the rights of 1.5 million citizens.

In November, voters in Florida overwhelmingly passed a referendum to allow many people with a felony conviction to vote after serving their time in prison, as long as they had not committed murder or a sexual offense.

Ad in favor of the amendment to allow felons to vote.

Prior to this referendum passing, the state of Florida had only allowed former felons to vote after their case was reviewed by a board — a lengthy process that almost never lead to the restoration of voting rights. Due to this, 1.5 million citizens in Florida were ineligible to vote because of their prior felony conviction. That’s right: 1.5 million Americans were denied their Constitutional right to vote, simply because of a prior conviction for which they had already served time.

Unfortunately, the full restoration of former felons’ right to vote, upon which residents of Florida had agreed, has not been fulfilled — due to actions by the Republican-controlled State legislature. This month, Republican lawmakers in Florida passed a bill that would require former felons to pay all court fees and civil judgments before their voting rights could be restored.

For many former inmates who are trying to build a life after incarceration, the amount that they owe in court fees and civil liens is more than they can ever recover. Additionally, the state of Florida does not have any system to keep track of what former convicts owe.

All in all, this bill adds up to what is basically a poll tax, which was a hallmark of the Jim Crow era where poll taxes were used to disenfranchise minority voters.

The issue of not allowing former felons to vote is further rooted in injustice due to the racial and socioeconomic disparities present in the criminal justice system. It is well-documented in the US that there is implicit and explicit racial bias in our judicial system. This is especially true in regards to the “war on drugs,” which has been shown to disproportionately target minority communities through arrests on small, non-violent drug charges.

Supporters of the bill.

Overall, our country has seen, time and time again, that justice is not blind. Instead, people of color or in low-income groups are disproportionately convicted of crimes and are stripped of their fundamental rights, including the right to vote.

This is a most unfortunate situation which must end. Around the country, there are many states that do not allow former felons to vote.

As citizens of a country which stands for compassion and second chances, we must work to change this. People who have served their time in prison and have paid their debt to society deserve the right to vote and to enjoy one of the fundamental freedoms of our society.