After Floridians voted by a 65-35 landslide to approve a 2018 constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for as many as 1.4 million citizens who had fully completed their felony sentences, Republican legislators just sent GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis a bill that would try to keep the vast majority of those citizens disenfranchised by imposing a measure straight out of the Jim Crow playbook: poll taxes. Their measure would require the payment of not just restitution but also all court-related fines and fees before voters could regain their rights.
Florida's felony disenfranchisement system itself is a remnant of Jim Crow: It was given its modern form shortly after the Civil War as part of a way of keeping black citizens from voting in a state that was nearly one-half black at the time. Before 2018's ballot initiative passed, the Sentencing Project estimated that one in 10 Floridians were disenfranchised, including one in five black voters—five times the rate of those who aren't black.
Imposing a requirement to pay off all court costs is especially draconian because of the predatory ways in which Florida courts and law enforcement derive funding from harsh fines imposed on criminal defendants, above and beyond restitution to crime victims. Even worse, it requires the payment of fines that have been converted into civil liens, meaning even some who have paid all of their criminal penalties still wouldn't have the right to vote. They could vote if a judge converts such debts into community service hours or if the owed party waives it, but a former judge told the Miami Herald that doing so could create a massive backlog in the justice system if hundreds of thousands apply to have debts waived.
By demanding that citizens pay all court fines and fees, Republicans could effectively roll back most of the 2018 amendment. It's unclear just how many people would have had their rights restored by the new amendment, but one analysis estimates Republicans' actions could keep roughly four-fifths of them from voting—making up to 1.1 million more people permanently disenfranchised—all because they're too poor to pay court costs. Black defendants in particular are considerably less likely to be able to pay off all their court costs than white defendants, according to one study.
Voting rights advocates such as the ACLU, which played a major role in supporting the 2018 measure, have condemned the GOP's efforts, and a lawsuit is all but guaranteed. However, after Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly won last year's election for governor—in part thanks to felony disenfranchisement—Republicans now hold a 6-1 majority on Florida's Supreme Court, putting the odds of such a lawsuit's success in doubt. By the same token, the U.S. Supreme Court's dismal record on voting rights under Chief Justice John Roberts isn't encouraging for the prospects of a federal suit.