Florida was trying to move on from its racist past, especially when it comes to keeping Black and brown people from voting.
In November, Floridians approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to former felons who have served their sentence, excluding those convicted of murder and sex felonies, by a landslide 30-point margin.
The amendment would have given voting rights back to roughly 1.5 million people, possibly tipping the massive swing state toward Democrats in the largest expansion of voting rights in Florida since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971. But Republicans couldn’t have that.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who barely won his seat, and other Republicans are determined to keep former felons, the majority of whom are people of color, from being able to vote.
DeSantis greatly weakened Amendment 4 on Friday when he locked former felons from registering for the upcoming election if they can’t pay past fines. The measure was immediately called out as a “poll tax.”
But a complaint filed in federal court almost immediately by felons seeking the right to vote and by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, says the measure creates an unconstitutional financial barrier to voting.
“It creates two classes,” says the complaint in US District Court in Northern Florida, “those who are wealthy enough to vote and those who cannot afford to. This disenfranchisement will be borne disproportionately by low-income individuals and racial minorities, due to longstanding and well-documented racial gaps in poverty and employment.”
Poll taxes have long been used, particularly in the south, to keep Black people from voting. Florida does not have a good record with former felons’ rights, either.
Ex-felons have been struggling for years to gain voting rights back, particularly under former Governor Rick Scott. A 2018 investigation by The Palm Beach Post found that Scott restored voting rights to a disproportionately low percentage of black felons and restored voting rights to a higher percentage of Republicans and a lower percentage of Democrats than any of his predecessors since 1971.