August 4, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined 19 other attorneys general in opposing a Florida “pay-to-vote” law that creates barriers to voting for formerly incarcerated citizens. Florida’s Senate Bill 7066 (SB-7066) requires returning citizens to pay all court-ordered financial obligations before they can vote, which disenfranchises citizens long after their release from incarceration.
In an amicus brief filed in Jones v. DeSantis before the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the coalition argues that the Florida law unlawfully conditions voting on payment of court-ordered financial obligations and does not provide an adequate process for determining the amount owed. The coalition also notes that this law disproportionately harms Black Americans, the Latinx community, and low-income returning citizens. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to restore the vote to former felons.
“Those who have served their time have paid their debt to society and no further payment should be required to access the ballot box,” Nessel said. “The State of Michigan has already recognized this important principle and I’m proud that we’re among the 17 states in the nation where a former felon’s voting rights are automatically restored upon release from prison. However, there are a number of states that don’t automatically restore voting rights and so I’ve joined with my colleagues and filed a brief in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that poverty cannot be a barrier to democracy.”
Felon disenfranchisement in the United States is the product of a disparate patchwork of state laws. Studies show that expanding the right to vote to people convicted of a felony benefits both the returning citizens and the communities they rejoin. However, as of 2016, approximately 4.7 million people who have been convicted of felony offenses in the United States—about 1 in every 40 adults—have completed the terms of their incarceration but are denied voting rights.
In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that automatically restored the voting rights of some felons “upon completion of all terms” of their sentences, “including parole or probation.” In response, in 2019, the Florida Legislature enacted SB-7066, which defined “completion of all terms of sentence” to include not just any term of imprisonment or supervision, but also financial obligations included in the sentence. Following a legal challenge to SB-7066, the district court blocked enforcement of the law, and the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. If the court upholds SB-7066, nearly one million Florida residents would be unable to vote because they have unpaid legal financial obligations.
In this amicus brief, the states collectively support the plaintiffs’ challenge to the Florida felon disenfranchisement law because:
Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington in filing this brief.