Last November, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 which restored voting rights to felons who had served out their sentences. There were no qualifiers in the amendment language other than excluding those convicted of murder or violent sex crimes, and when it went into effect in January, it had the desired result: a lot of people who had been denied the right to vote began to register.
Well, the Republican-dominated state legislature couldn’t let that happen, now could they? After losing challenges to the amendment itself before the election, they decided to come up with qualifiers of their own.
The bill could disenfranchise more than half a million Floridians who have not completed restitution payments. (More than 80 percent of fines levied by courts in Florida from 2014 to 2018 had “minimal collections expectations,” according to the Clerk of Courts association, because defendants were too poor to pay them off.) Those with past felony convictions who have completed probation and parole began registering to vote in January, when Amendment 4 went into effect, and voter registration numbers have more than doubled from the same period four years ago. Now that could all come to a halt. “This is clearly an effort to undermine the will of the voters,” says Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “We are creating a two-tiered system and saying how much money you have can determine whether you can vote.”
It’s not just in Florida, either.
The move to gut Amendment 4 is part of a broader effort by Republican-controlled states to restrict access to the ballot after voters approved ballot initiatives in November’s midterm elections to expand voting rights and elected Democrats who supported policies like automatic voter registration and felon reenfranchisement. “There is an uptick in activity around measures to restrict voting access,” the Brennan Center for Justice states in a new report, with 19 bills restricting voting access moving through state legislatures in 10 states.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill on Thursday that could curtail voter registration drives by imposing fines of up to $10,000 on groups that submit incomplete registration forms, even though they’re required by state law to hand in any registration forms they collect. The law imposes additional requirements on registration groups, such as mandatory state training and limited time windows to submit registrations, and failure to meet these requirements is punishable by jail time. Civil rights groups allege that the law is an effort to disenfranchise black voters after the Tennessee Black Voter Project registered 90,000 African Americans ahead of the 2018 election. Shortly after Lee signed the measure into law, the Tennessee chapter of the NAACP and other civil rights groups filed suit against state officials to challenge it.
The Texas state senate passed a similar bill, which would make it a felony—punishable by jail time—for a voter to provide false information on a voter registration form or cast a ballot when the person is ineligible to vote, even if it’s an honest mistake and the ballot is not counted. The Texas House of Representatives is now considering the bill.
I fully expect the Florida law to be challenged in court, but it’s obvious that the Republicans in Tallahassee and other state capitals where they are beginning to find themselves in a bind for their blatant rigging of the system: both Michigan and Ohio’s congressional districts that were gerrymandered within an inch of their lives by GOP legislatures have been tossed out by the courts. (In a fitting bit of irony, an Ohio legislator who is a defendant in the case complained that this ruling is politically motivated and will only help Democrats win elections.)
This is just more evidence to add to the steaming pile already accumulated on the stable floor that the only way Republicans can truly win an election — even after they lose — is by cheating and changing the rules.