In 2018 Amendment 4 restored the right to vote for most of those with prior felony convictions who had completed their sentences.
But in July 2019, Senate Bill 7066 was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which defined completion of sentence to include full payment of any ordered fines or fees.
Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Desmond Meade explains how he expects the amendment to impact the 2020 election.
The coalition believes no one deserves to lose the right to vote and argues that disenfranchising felons is a Jim Crow-era practice that disproportionately targets people of color. According to Meade, in Florida there are 1.4 million convicted felons who should be eligible to vote.
“If you are so poor that the court had to assign you a public defender then that’s a clear indication that you’re too poor to pay these fines or restitution and you should still be allowed to register to vote,” Meade said.
He said the ruling impacts approximately 774,000 returning citizens who are now forced to choose between putting food on their kids table or voting.
He said all is not lost since there are no races for statewide office on the ballot this year. But the presidential race is expected to be tight. In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the state by about 113,000 votes.
“A lot of people put the focus on 774,00 people who can’t vote because of a felony conviction but when you do the math that leaves 500,000 to 600,000 returning citizens with no legal financial obligations that can register to vote immediately,” Meade said.
Those numbers could swing critical races here in Florida.
“Even that number is more than enough to have a significant impact but then you go beyond that in a couple of years we have a race for governor and attorney general,” Meade said.