Conviction politics: Floridas disenfranchised felons
Joe Biden took to the campaign trail in Florida, this week. As a rally for Hispanic voters Mr. Biden emphasized seemed like a eight point. Getting people out to vote. So please. This election. Make your vote her. Through your vote, your voices her. Make a plan to vote has been pointed out. Make your plan to help your community for. But the very act of voting in this year's election has become contentious. President trump has been railing against mailing voting is having little evidence of fraud this whole ballot system where you can send it in. and. It's not even requested. We're not talking about it solicited. They're unsolicited ballots and they're sent in is very dangerous or our country and in Florida a fight over voting rights for former felons could see hundreds of thousands of people disenfranchised. So. In Two thousand eighteen voters in Florida approved a constitutional amendment allowing felons who had served their time except for murderers at certain sex related offenders to vote in elections. After that amendment passed Florida's Republican legislature passed a law saying, that's fine. They can vote but they have to pay back all the fines, fees and restitution costs of their incarceration. John Facile is economists. Washington correspondent. So that's the sort of thing that sounds quite reasonable. Right if you stole one hundred bucks from someone, you gotta pay back what you stole before you can vote but Florida's criminal justice system is unusually reliant on fines and fees from offenders. So you have people who had been convicted of felonies poor people who had to pay fifty dollars to get a public defender or one hundred bucks for some sort of fee to file a complaint. then. You also had fines levied on them that were quite heavy. So I spoke to one woman who was convicted of her part in a fraud scheme that she says was unwitting, but she was ordered to pay back fifty, nine, million dollars and no. One's ever going to be able to do that. I spent time with another young man who was convicted of a felony while he was basically just out of school and it turns out that when he went to registered to vote, he owed four thousand dollars to the county where he was arrested nobody had ever told him. That and other courts allowing this law to stand the courts have let it stand on Friday the last court in Florida weighed in and they've let the stand the court said the fines and fees were part of the criminal sentence. So they couldn't be said to a fully completed their full sentence until they had paid off everything they were told to pay off. So it looks as though almost eight hundred thousand people who thought they would be able to vote may not be able to vote and so is the supreme court likely to weigh in at this point now again? It's probably not going to go to the supreme. Court again, they declined to hear it in July, before that last appeal they declined over the strong objections of Justice Sotomayor who accused her colleagues of continuing trend of condoning disenfranchisement that's in Florida is this happening else? Well, the rules regarding where and how felons can vote changed dramatically from state to state you have some states like for mountain main where people can vote while in. Prison and you have some states like Florida used to be where if you've been convicted of a felony anytime, you never have the right to vote. So it's a Patchwork of laws regarding felony and franchise, but the trend has been over the past decade or so to loosen restrictions rather than strengthen them. But as we've seen in Florida sometimes that involves bats lighting sometimes the loosening isn't as loosened practice as it appears it should be. Felons aside, how easy or hard is it in general for people who exercise their right to vote in America? It's harder than I think it should be it's harder than most people think it should be it used to be the case that the Voting Rights Act which was passed in nineteen sixty five required jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. To submit any changes to how they conduct elections to the Justice Department in two, thousand, thirteen, the supreme court basically gutted it. The Voting Rights Act they said that requirements should no longer apply since then around seventeen hundred polling places have closed and previously covered jurisdictions, the largest numbers were in Texas Arizona and and most of those places are in heavily minority district. There's also the problem of long lines often what I found that I was recovering Super Tuesday in Texas before everything shutdown is that in suburban precincts. White it was much easier to vote than in inner city precincts, which were which were heavily African American of the Tino. In two, thousand, sixteen around half a million voters failed to cast ballots at their polling places because of problems at those polling locations. So I think people tend to think of voter suppression as as physically keeping people away from the polls that really doesn't happen. What does happen is that the exercise the franchise is likely to be much more onerous if you're a non white than if you're white, are we seeing any of those problems this round this time round for the election that's coming up. Yeah. We saw them in full force in Wisconsin in their primary earlier this spring in April. Shortage of poll workers as much of America does as result, they're only five precincts total in the city of Milwaukee, which is the state's biggest city in which had one hundred, eighty precincts in two, thousand sixteen. There are a lot of places that are really concerned about having enough poll workers to have all the polling place that should be open poll workers tend to be retirees, which puts them at high risk of Covid, and so a lot of them understandably don't WanNa come out and and sit in the crowded place for long hours. But there's a fear that this shortage of poll workers is GONNA lead to a lot fewer polling places in there should be. Perhaps. It's a naive question but why would anyone want to make harder for people to vote? So there are those who say that because Republicans are so dependent on older white voters who tend to be the most reliable voters that is in their interest to make it harder for non white and young voters to vote. Donald Trump. When he was talking about expanding postal voting essentially gave the game away. He said they had things levels of voting that if you ever agree to it, you'd never have a republican elected in this country again. So it seems as though Republicans rather than trying to appeal to as many voters as possible regardless of race color creed or. Are really trying to tailor the electric to best suit themselves. What about voting by mail something that would seem obvious into pandemic but that's been hugely divisive. This round hasn't it. Yeah Donald Trump has been inveighing against it, which is odd because there's a ton of research that shows that voting by mail tends to improve turnout but not for any particular political party more recently, he has been encouraging his supporters to vote by mail I. Think he has got nervous that if Democrats vote by mail and huge numbers and Republicans don't vote by mail at all then this may lead to an imbalance in the results that doesn't favor him. There have been polls that have showed that as many as fifty percent of Democrats, more plan to vote by mail whereas only one in five Republicans do you can imagine it sort of pandemic situation in red states where Republicans don't want to go to the polls but think that voting by mail is corrupt is now trying to walk back some of the damage you may have caused. How do all these trends impact the election this year? Do you think John? I think that between the president inveighing against the election warning that it's going to be rigged concerns about foreign interference. There is an alarming number of Americans people on both sides of the aisle who thinks that this year's election won't be free and fair I. Think there are concerns that people may be less likely to vote and that once they vote, they'll be less likely. To accept the results of the elections that is going to lead people to lose faith in democracy itself for those who do want get the vote out what are they doing about it? Well, people can check their registration status early, they could make sure that their friends and neighbors are all registered. I think there's a lot of worry among Democrats because traditional touch points that. They use to register voters you know the DMV or college voter registration drives those aren't happening now because of the pandemic and there are fears that young people are not registering at the numbers they should be. But for Florida's felons, there have been organizations that are working to pay off fines and fees almost four million dollars have been raised so far. Bloomberg who had been. Running for president said, he will spend one hundred million dollars of his own money to help Joe Biden win in. Florida. I think there's there's a hope that some of that will go to paying off fines and fees, but unfortunately, it looks like whatever happens not everyone who thought that they would be eligible to vote will, in fact, be eligible to vote this fall in Florida.