Just days after the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected racially-charged claims by Florida’s leading Democrats over restoration of felon voting rights, the Miami Herald Editorial Board published an opinion piece (DeSantis & Co. don’t want ex-prisoners to vote. Do an end run around them, Floridians) in which the paper’s editors ignore key facts of the underlying case in order to paint Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP lawmakers as racists.
First, the facts, few of which you’ll actually find in the Miami Herald’s opinion piece on the matter.
In 2018, Floridians voted in favor of Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to all ex-felons who had completed the terms of their sentence, which included paying all fines, restitution, court costs and fees, according to backers of Amendment 4, who said as much to the Florida Supreme Court when asked about it. The American Civil Liberties Union even specifically explained this to felons on a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website (which they subsequently tried and failed to delete for unknown reasons – see links at bottom for more on that subject).
Despite this explicit explanation to voters, the debate over felon voting in Florida now hinges on the issue of whether or not a felon’s sentence may be considered complete based on whether or not all fines, restitution, court costs and fees are paid. This shouldn’t be a debate, frankly, because as it was explained in 2018, fines, fees, restitution and court costs must be paid. Period. But there are political advantages to be gained, and so here we are.
Soon after the amendment passed in late 2018, Democrats and their allied elections supervisors immediately began registering ex-felons to vote, without bothering to confirm if their sentences were fully complete. It was a brazen political stunt to see just how far they could push their luck. Republican lawmakers, immediately wary of the “Wild West” approach, stepped in to pass a law implementing standards to ensure the state constitution was being followed and applied consistently across Florida.
They were immediately and dishonestly accused by top Democrats of attempting to implement a racist “poll tax” on ex-felons who couldn’t afford to pay all their fines and fees, in direct contradiction to the very language amendment backers and the media used to win support for the issue from voters.
Six federal judges rejected that argument in a ruling handed down on Friday, and now the Miami Herald’s editors are so upset that they ignored the underlying facts of the case and dredged up the same arguments again. Here are their two most dishonest claims:
Denying former prisoners the vote was a shame more than a century ago when Jim Crow laws aimed to keep returning African-American citizens from casting a ballot. And it’s a shame now, as Florida leaders keep alive the spirit of such a rabidly discriminatory time.
The Eleventh Circuit explicitly rejected this argument, ruling quite clearly that requiring ex-felons to fulfill all of the elements of their sentence, including paying fines, fees, court costs and restitution, did not constitute an illegal “poll tax.”
But the Herald clearly believes that replaying the same, shopworn, racially-charged argument is just fine, and even healthy for political discourse in our state. In fact, it’s further evidence, not that more was needed, that the Miami Herald is so politically biased that it no longer cares about truth.
State lawmakers added the fines-and-fees provision.
This is demonstrably false. The amendment’s own backers testified before the Florida Supreme Court, months before Florida voted on the amendment, that in order to have voting rights restored, ex-felons must pay all fines, fees, court costs and pay any court-ordered restitution to victims. This is not only common sense, as it’s quite clearly part of the sentencing process and logically part of how an ex-felon must atone for his or her crime(s), it’s a matter of public record. The Miami Herald’s editors know this. Claiming it’s an invention of state lawmakers is totally dishonest, and it gives a free pass to the irresponsible elections supervisors who immediately starting registering ex-felons to vote without bothering to verify if the felon’s sentence had been completed.
Here’s a list of some of the news sources and supporters of the amendment, and how they described the fines, fees and restitution issue to Florida voters BEFORE election day in 2018:
Orlando Sentinel – October 26, 2018: “…residents could see a change in Florida’s constitution if at least 60 percent of citizens vote yes to Amendment 4, which would automatically grant voting rights back to convicted felons after they’ve served their time, paid restitution and finished parole and probation.”
Susan Manning, Florida Voting Rights Restoration Coalition: “[Amendment Four] is going to affect people who have been waiting forever. People who have done their time. People who have finished their sentence, done their probation, paid their court costs, paid their fines, paid their restitution—and have still been waiting.”
WEAR-TV (Pensacola) – July 24, 2018: “It’s called the “Voting Restoration Amendment,” and will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4. Former inmates must finish their sentence, complete parole or probation and pay back any fines or restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would not be eligible.”
Florida Today – September 20, 2018 (Note: the Miami Herald ed board also published this same content): “To be eligible, these felons must complete “all terms of sentence including parole or probation.“ That means they would have paid restitution, court costs and fees, and completed community service, house arrest, jail and/or prison sentences, plus any other special conditions of parole or probation.”
Bottom line: Voters in Florida overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 in 2018 after being told that felons would be required to pay restitution, court costs, fines, and fees. There is no disputing this, yet Democrats and other progressives, including the Miami Herald’s editorial board, are trying to pry far more out of the compassion of Florida voters than what they actually voted for.
For an even deeper dive on this subject, complete with more links to undeniable evidence of the deceit being employed by some of the state’s leading Democrats and media institutions, see our previous story on the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling, here.