We often hear about who should have the right to vote, but rarely do we ever hear about who should not have the right to vote. In 2018, the states of Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia were the only four states where convicted felons did not regain the right to vote after completion of all the terms of their sentences. Then, in the November election, voters in my state of Florida approved Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. A 60 percent supermajority vote was required for approval. The amendment passed by a vote of 64.55 to 35.45 percent. The ballot summary read as follows: This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their
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We often hear about who should have the right to vote, but rarely do we ever hear about who should not have the right to vote.
In 2018, the states of Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia were the only four states where convicted felons did not regain the right to vote after completion of all the terms of their sentences.
Then, in the November election, voters in my state of Florida approved Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. A 60 percent supermajority vote was required for approval. The amendment passed by a vote of 64.55 to 35.45 percent.
The ballot summary read as follows:
This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.
Thousands of Floridians with felony convictions registered to vote on January 8, 2019—the day when Amendment 4 was officially implemented. According to ThinkProgress, the amendment “effectively restored the civil rights of 10 percent of Florida’s adult population, as well as one in five black Florida residents.”
On May 3, 2019, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 7066. An amendment to the bill required convicted felons to complete “all terms of sentence” including full payment of restitution, or any fines, fees, or costs resulting from the conviction. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 28, 2019.
The ACLU and the NAACP then announced a lawsuit with seventeen plaintiffs to block SB 7066 from taking effect. On August 9, 2019, DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion concerning “whether ‘completion of all terms of sentence’ includes the satisfaction of all legal financial obligations — namely fees, fines and restitution ordered by the court as part of a felony sentence that would otherwise render a convicted felon ineligible to vote.” On September 10, 2019, DeSantis asked a federal district court to delay the lawsuit until after the state supreme court issued its advisory opinion. But on October 18, 2019, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that “each of these plaintiffs have a constitutional right to vote so long as the state’s only reason for denying the vote is failure to pay an amount the plaintiff is genuinely unable to pay.” The state appealed the judge’s ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. On January 16, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion stating that “completion of all terms of sentence” does include the satisfaction of all legal financial obligations.
On January 28, 2020, three judges for the Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case and appeared critical of the Florida legislature’s requirement that convicted felons pay back all court fees, fines, and restitution to victims before being allowed to vote.
Although I personally don’t vote, I have mixed feelings about the various state laws that restore the voting rights of convicted felons.
According to Ballotpedia, as of December 2019:
- In two states, convicted felons always retained the right to vote: Maine and Vermont.
- In one state, convicted felons never regained the right to vote: Iowa. The government may opt to restore an individual’s voting rights.
- In three states, voting rights were restored to a convicted felon immediately upon completion of prison and parole time: California, Connecticut, and New York.
- In eight states, felons with certain convictions never regained the right to vote. The government may opt to restore an individual’s voting rights. In Arizona, the government must opt to restore voting rights for individuals with two or more felony convictions. Voting rights are automatically restored to an individual with one felony conviction upon completion of his or her sentence.
- In 17 states and Washington, D.C., voting rights were restored to a convicted felon immediately upon completion of his or her prison sentence.
- In 19 states, voting rights were restored to a convicted felon upon completion of his or her sentence, including prison time, parole, and probation.
The war on drugs, which should not exist, and would not exist in a free society, has contributed to many Americans being convicted felons. No American who is a convicted felon because of the drug war should ever be denied the right to vote.
I don’t have the answer to the question of who should have the right to vote, but I have some thoughts on who should not have the right to vote.
It was once pointed out by economist Walter Williams of George Mason University:
Tragically, two-thirds to three-quarters of the federal budget can be described as Congress taking the rightful earnings of one American to give to another American—using one American to serve another. Such acts include farm subsidies, business bailouts, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and many other programs.
“Many other programs” is a great understatement. We live in a transfer society. In the report titled “Marriage Penalties in Means-Tested Tax and Transfer Programs: Issues and Options,” appendix B has a listing of 89 federal means-tested welfare programs organized under ten headings:
Adoption Assistance Title IV-E
Assets for Independence
Child Credit (refundable portion)
Earned Income Tax Credit (refundable portion)
State Refundable Earned Income Tax Credit
Foster Care Title IV-E
General Assistance Cash
General Assistance to Indians
Refugee Assistance (cash)
Child Care and Child Development
Child Care and Development Block Grant
Childcare Entitlement to the States
TANF Block Grant Child Care
Appalachian Regional Development
Community Development Block Grant and Related Development Funds
Economic Development Administration (Commerce)
Energy and Utilities
LIHEAP—Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
Universal Service Fund—Subsidized Phone Service for Low-Income Persons
21st Century Learning Centers
Adult Basic Education Grants
Aid for Graduate and Professional Study for Disadvantaged and Minorities
American Opportunity Tax Credit
Education for Homeless Children and Youth
Special Programs for Disadvantaged (TRIO)
Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
Title I Grants to Local Education Authorities
Child and Adult Care Food Program
Commodity Supplemental Food Program
Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Needy Families
Nutrition Program for the Elderly, Nutrition Service Incentives
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Special Milk Program
Summer EBT Demonstration
TEFAP—The Emergency Food Assistance Program
WIC—Women, Infant, and Children Food Program
Home Investment Partnership Program (HUD)
Homeless Assistance Grants (HUD)
Housing for Persons with Disabilities (HUD)
Housing for the Elderly (HUD)
Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) for Developers
Native American Housing Block Grants (HUD)
Other Assisted Housing Programs (HUD)
Public Housing (HUD)
Rural Housing Insurance Fund (Agriculture)
Rural Housing Service (Agriculture)
Section 8 Housing (HUD)
State Housing Expenditures
Consolidated Health Centers/Community Health Centers
Indian Health Services
Maternal and Child Health Medicaid
Medical Assistance to Refugees
Medical General Assistance
Refundable Premium Assistance and Cost Sharing Tax Credit
SCHIP State Supplemental Health Insurance Program
State and Local Hospital and Medical Care for Low Income Persons
AmeriCorps/Volunteers in Service to America
Community Service Block Grant
Emergency Food and Shelter Program
Family Self-Sufficiency (HUD)
Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Grants
Independent Living (Chafee Foster Care Independence Program)
Independent Living Training Vouchers
Legal Services Block Grant
Maternal, Infants and Early Childhood Home Visitation Safe and Stable Families
Social Services for Refugees, Asylees and Humanitarian Cases
TANF Block Grant Services
Title III Aging Americans Act
Title XX Social Services Block Grant
Food Stamp Employment and Training Program
Native American Training
Senior Community Service Employment
TANF Work Activities and Training
WIA Adult Employment and Training (formerly JTPA IIA Training for Disadvantaged Adults and Youth)
WIA Youth Opportunity Grants (formerly Summer Youth Employment
And these are just the means-tested programs!
If anyone should not have the right to vote, then certainly it should be those who benefit from these programs. What a tremendous conflict of interest to allow a person dependent on government funds to vote in an election that may have an impact on the continuance or the amount of those funds.
I am more concerned about welfare recipients voting than I am about someone who steals a car and then “serves his time” and “pays his debt to society” having his voting rights restored.