• Cody Uhls

A History of Amendment 4 and the Right to Vote

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Florida’s Supreme Court struck a blow to voting rights in the state by requiring ex-felons to pay all court-ordered fees and “all terms of sentence” before allowing them to regain their voting rights.

Opponents of the bill describe the decision as a “Poll Tax,” which is illegal according to the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Governor Ron DeSantis said in a tweet, “Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and I am obligated to faithfully implement Amendment 4 as it is defined.”

Voting is a right, however, a right that is guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution. But it hasn’t always been that way. Florida has had this prohibition on the voting rights of felons for more than 100 years.

In 1868, the right to vote for African American felons was stripped due to their inability to pay legal fees and other court-related expenses.

According to a paper written for the University of Florida College of Law, it states, “Although the 1868 Constitution extended the right to vote to all males regardless of race, the 1868 Constitution also provided for the automatic disenfranchisement of felons. Echoing the sentiments of the Black Code, the disenfranchisement provisions contained in the 1868 Florida Constitution sought to reduce the number of African-American voters.”

This was ratified in 1968 along with the entire Florida Constitution, which is still in effect today. This document declares it illegal for anyone with felony charges to be allowed the right to vote unless given clemency from the Governor of Florida.

And that’s where things start to turn.

Former Governor of Florida Charlie Crist granted clemency to 155,315 ex-felons in the state of Florida for their right to vote. The right to vote began to diminish under Former Governor Rick Scott. After Mr. Crist’s time in office, NPR reported, “Over the next seven years, Gov. Rick Scott restored voting rights to only about 3,000 people.”

The Scott Administration was so restrictive it was deemed unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court presided over by Judge Mark E. Walker. Mr. Walker said in his opinion, “Partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards.”

Amendment 4 was necessary to give the right to vote to those felons after they served their court-ordered terms. The DeSantis Administration put a bill forward which “require[s] felons to pay off restitution, court fees and fines before regaining the right to vote.” This requirement creates a real problem for those ex-felons who may struggle to find work after their sentences, making it difficult to pay the remaining legal fees.

The decision by the Supreme Court will likely bring appeal challenges in the coming months.

This will again disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in Florida. According to The Tampa Bay Times, “It’s believed that hundreds of thousands of felons owe court fees, fines or restitution but are unable to immediately pay off the amounts. Many are on payment plans that may never end. Felons who owe millions of dollars in restitution, for example, face potential lifetime disenfranchisement.”

What Mr. DeSantis and others don’t acknowledge are felons and ex-felons are disproportionately African American and vote Democrat, according to a study done by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Their inability to vote would more than likely help Republicans in elections.

The conversation isn’t over. Every United States citizen should have the right to vote. Every Floridian should have the right to vote.

No matter who you are, you have the right to decide your leadership. You should have a say of who represents you in Washington and in your local offices.

To read our statement about the law, click here.

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