Florida legislators passed a bill Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons who can vote, according to NBC News. The measure comes following approval of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for state residents convicted of felonies, during the 2018 midterm elections.
More than 1.5 million Floridians regained the ability to vote. However, through the new GOP-backed proposal, former felons would be required to pay back all fines and court fees before they can register to vote. A stipulation that many critics, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), said unfairly targets low-income residents who are primarily people of color.
Even if the former felons are on state-issued repayment plans, they will not be allowed to register to vote until they are entirely paid off.
“A poll tax by any other name,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Tuesday.
“What the barriers proposed in this bill do is nearly guarantee that people will miss election after election … because they cannot afford to pay financial obligations,” said Julie Ebenstein, a voting rights attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s an affront to the Florida voters.”
The constitutional amendment, which 65 percent of voters approved, went into effect in January 2019. It states that previously convicted felons, excluding murderers and sexual offenders, would be able to vote “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”
“Keeping voters who can’t afford to pay their fees immediately, keeping them disenfranchised for additional years, decades, or for the rest of their life, is not what was contemplated by voters who passed this amendment,” Ebenstein said.
Desmond Meade, a former felon who helped to promote Amendment 4 on the November 2018 ballot with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said the measure is another hurdle for individuals like him.
“We are hopeful that improvements can be made to this bill that secure bipartisan support before it moves to the next committee,” Meade said in a statement. “After all, Amendment 4 passed with broad support from people all over the state and from all walks of life. Any legislation proposed should neither limit the rights created by Amendment 4 nor infringe upon the will of Florida voters.”