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Lance Wissinger (left) and Neil Volz shake hands after turning in their voter registration forms in Fort Myers, Fla., in January. Both have felony records but had their voting rights restored under an amendment passed in November 2018.

Advocates challenge Florida law placing restrictions on felons' voting rights

What had been hailed as a major victory for those who favor restoring voting rights for convicted felons has now become a legal battle over exactly how that process should work.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that requires those seeking to recover their voting rights to first pay all fines and fees that they owe. In swift order, voting and civil rights groups then filed legal action seeking to block the requirement.

Last fall, voters in Florida passed by a wide margin a state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to Floridians "after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation."


In signing the bill requiring payment before voting rights restoration, DeSantis said the amendment restored rights "without regard to the wishes of the victims."

"I think this was a mistake and would not want to compound that mistake by bestowing blanket benefits on violent offenders," DeSantis wrote. The amendment excluded people convicted of murder or sexual offenses but covers, DeSantis pointed out, those convicted of attempted murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Advocates estimate more than 1 million Floridians could have their voting rights restored because of the amendment.

Those filing suit in federal court in Florida to block the law – including the Campaign Legal Center, Brennan Center for Justice, ALCU of Florida and NAACP Legal Defense Fund – claim it discriminates on the basis of wealth and constitutes a modern-day poll tax.

"Over a million Floridians were supposed to reclaim their place in the democratic process, but some politicians clearly feel threatened by greater voter participation," said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.

"They cannot legally affix a price tag on someone's right to vote," Ebenstein said in a statement released when the lawsuit was announced.

The legislation signed by the governor does allow felons to ask a judge to waive the fees or fines or convert them to community service hours. In order to waive restitution, the victim must sign off or could also allow it to be converted to community service.

Several reports say court records show ex-felons who have completed their prison sentences in Florida owe hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid fines and penalties.

Some states, like Washington, allow ex-felons to vote while they pay off their fines.

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RepresentUs

RepresentUs acquired 8,000 signatures on a petition asking Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to keep working on a "revolving door" bill. Paula Barkan, Austin chapter leader of RepresentUs, handed the petition to Brandon Simon, Cruz's Central Texas regional director, on July 31.

Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez still discussing revolving door bill

Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?

To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."

The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.

The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.

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Adults of all ages agree: There's little confidence in elected leaders

But in general, young adults have a lot more trust issues than their elders

Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.

While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."

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