New Florida law restricts ex-felons voting rights victory

By Cynthia Jaquith
May 20, 2019

MIAMI — In a blow to the rights of working people, the Florida legislature adopted a bill May 3 that would undermine the victory won last November when over 64% voted to grant most ex-felons the right to vote. Amendment 4 to the state constitution, adopted by referendum, restored voting rights to more than 1 million people who have completed their sentences, probation and parole.

The new bill that’s headed to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to restrict those rights. It says ex-felons must first pay off all court costs and restitution unless they can find a judge willing to waive these payments. Felons wouldn’t be able to vote even if they have a court-ordered agreement to pay off their debt month by month.

“That’s not what the people voted for,” Patrick Penn, who had been imprisoned for 15 years on robbery and burglary charges, told the New York Times. “Basically, they’re telling you, ‘If you have money, you can vote. If you don’t have money, you can’t.’”

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, says hundreds of thousands of ex-felons who’ve served their time will be denied the franchise if DeSantis signs the bill.

Over 90 percent of those who go to prison never have a trial. Instead they are pressured by threats of draconian sentences by the cops and prosecutors to accept a plea “bargain.” When they emerge from prison they face pervasive job discrimination, making it more difficult to pay off fees, fines, or restitution.

“This bill is just another way the capitalist rulers are attempting to curtail the political rights of the working class,” Anthony Dutrow, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Miami City Commission, told the press May 6. “They hate the fact that the workers of this state voted last November to reject the dehumanization of our sisters and brothers caught up in the so-called capitalist criminal ‘justice’ system. We support the right of all present and former felons to vote.

“The capitalist rulers increasingly fear that working people are fed up with the carnage the crisis of their capitalist system is inflicting on us, and will begin to fight back,” he said. “They are looking to restrict our right to vote and find other ways to weaken our political rights. We join in the fight to overturn this bill.”