In 2018, almost 65 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which was intended to help restore the voting rights of those with a felony conviction. However, the state Legislature then passed implementing legislation (SB 7066) that watered down the provisions voters approved: the measure requires payment of all court fines, fees, and restitution before the right to vote is restored. For many, paying their criminal debt is a challenging task.
Nationally, in 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people were disenfranchised due to past felony convictions. Floridians accounted for 27 percent of those who were disenfranchised nationwide, an estimated 1.4 million people. Black Floridians are overrepresented in the criminal justice system relative to the general population and made up 21 percent of those who were disenfranchised as of 2016.
Returning citizens face various barriers to re-entry. They are less likely to be employed and even when they are, their wages are far lower than those who are without a criminal record. Having their voting rights restored offers them an opportunity to feel like they belong and can be civically engaged in their communities.
In approving the implementing legislation, Florida lawmakers effectively created another barrier, that of fines and fees, that hinder returning citizens from voting.