Study suggests felon voting bill would disproportionately affect African Americans

African Americans make up 13% of currently registered voters in Florida

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A new study by the Brennan Center for Justice found more than 2,000 felons registered to vote in Florida within the first three months of 2019. 

It was a 99% increase over the last two nongeneral election years.

Legislation awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature would require felons to pay back fines, fees and restitution before they have their voting rights restored under Amendment 4. 

DeSantis said he supports the requirement.

“You know, as a prosecutor, there were times when restitution was more important than incarceration,” DeSantis said.

Of the felons who have registered to vote since Amendment 4 took effect in January, 44% self-identified as black.

African Americans make up only 13% of currently registered voters in the state.

“People are going to be disproportionately impacted and those people are going to be people of color,” said Kara Gross, with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report also found the newly registered felons make $15,000 a year less on average than the general voting population.

Social justice groups have said it suggests the financial requirements would pose a substantial obstacle to restoration.

However, there are alternatives to payment under the Amendment 4 implementing bill. 

A felon can petition a judge to waive fines or fees or have them converted to community service hours.

In March, House sponsor James Grant, R-Tampa, said he didn’t take into account who would be impacted when drafting the bill.

“My only job was to be as objective as possible to maintain the will of the voters and when the contract put before the voters was after they complete all terms of their sentence, that's exactly what we're going to do,” Grant said,

But Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center said that was a grave misstep.

“If we knew we had a racial disparities problem, we should definitely do policies and institute laws that try and rectify and eliminate those racial disparities,” McCoy said.

With approval from the governor expected, both the ACLU and SPLC said lawsuits are in the works.

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