Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has a plan to make good on a promise that Floridians voted into the state Constitution, but that has already been subverted by a rabidly partisan Legislature.
Fernandez Rundle is developing a comprehensive plan to allow ex-felons to vote, restoring their full status as citizens. The issue should have been settled in November, when 65 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 4 at the polls.
It was a hard-fought, hard-won and years-long battle to allow ex-felons to vote upon their release from prison. They had been prohibited from doing so by a 150-year-old law steeped in the state’s racist past, a law that had no place in 21st-century Florida. In 1868, post-Civil War, Congress forced Florida to rewrite its Constitution to allow every man the right to vote. But adding thousands of eligible black men to the rolls would have made whites a voting minority. State lawmakers hit upon a “fix” in the form of a lifetime voting ban on anyone with a felony conviction.
In recent decades, unfortunately, restoring ex-felons’ voting rights has been a huge problem for Republican lawmakers, based on the assumption that the majority of African-American and Hispanic former prisoners will skew Democrat. State legislators have put hurdles and stumbling blocks in front them for too long, including a convoluted and arbitrary clemency process that a judge ruled unconstitutional.
This year, Republican state lawmakers, aided and abetted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, put one more twist in ex-felons’ path to the ballot box. They passed a law that now requires that they pay all fines and fees before being allowed to vote. In a state that still prohibits ex-felons from entering certain professions and where many employers are unwilling to take a chance on an ex-prisoner, this newest hurdle will be hard for them to clear in a timely manner — which, of course, is Republicans’ mission.
That’s why it is encouraging that Fernandez Rundle is actually listening to what voters wanted. As reported by WLRN, her office is collaborating with the courts, the public defender’s office, the county clerk and other agencies to give ex-felons alternatives to fines and fees, if they are unable to pay them. For instance, community service might be a component.
A state attorney spokesman told the Editorial Board that Fernandez Rundle could make an official announcement next week, with a hoped-for rollout of the plan around Labor Day.
Her efforts are rooted, too, in the practical reality that integrating ex-felons back into their communities, with the rights of any other citizen, increases the chances that they will not reoffend.
Where lawmakers are willing to thwart Florida voters’ wish — and not for the first time, sadly — Fernandez Rundle is looking for a way to fulfill it. And we commend her for it. Her efforts are worth emulating in counties throughout the state.