Top of page

Attorney General of Virginia

0
0
0
s2sdefault
powered by social2s

Image of the Virginia AG Seal

Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OPPOSES FLORIDA’S UNLAWFUL PAY-TO-VOTE SYSTEM FOR FORMERLY INCARCERATED CITIZENS

~ Herring joins coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief arguing that Florida unfairly limits voting rights by requiring payment of all court-ordered fees; law disproportionately affects African Americans, Latinx community and low-income returning citizens ~

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in opposing a Florida “pay-to-vote” law that creates barriers to voting for formerly incarcerated citizens. Florida’s Senate Bill 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 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 African Americans, the Latinx community, and low-income returning citizens. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to restore the vote to former felons.

 

“Voting is a fundamental right for all Americans and formerly incarcerated individuals deserve that right and that second chance,” said Attorney General Herring. “Florida’s ‘pay-to-vote’ law disproportionately disenfranchises Black Floridians, members of the Latinx community, and low-income individuals who may have a harder time paying off their court-ordered fees following their release. As a country, we should focus on making it easier for everyone to vote and participate in our democracy, not harder.”

 

Felon disenfranchisement in the United States is the product of a disparate patchwork of state laws. Efforts to expand the right to vote embrace studies that show allowing former felons to vote benefits both the returning citizens and the communities they rejoin. However, as of 2016, approximately 4.7 million former felons 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 their amicus brief, the coalition collectively supports the plaintiffs’ challenge to the Florida felon disenfranchisement law because:

 

  • Pay-to-vote laws harm low-income returning citizens and do not compel payment: States that condition a former felon’s restoration of voting rights on payment of all legal financial obligations disadvantage low-income residents by indefinitely depriving them of the right to vote. There is little evidence that disenfranchisement compels former felons to pay outstanding legal financial obligations if they do not have the money to do so. This is especially true in Florida, which has not established an administrative process for returning citizens to ascertain what, if anything, they owe.  

 

  • Felon disenfranchisement disproportionately harms African Americans and Latinx community: States have recognized the importance of restoring voting rights to returning citizens given the disparate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws on minority communities. As of 2016, over 7.4 percent of the African American voting age population in the United States could not vote, as compared with only 1.8 percent of the non-African American population. In Florida, more than 20 percent of Black adults have been disenfranchised. Available data also suggests that disenfranchisement laws disproportionately harm the Latinx community because they are incarcerated at higher rates than the non-Latinx population: about 2.4 times greater for Latinx men and 1.5 times for Latinx women.

 

  • Expanding voting to former felons promotes successful reintegration and enhances public safety: Over the past twenty years, states have restored the right to vote to more than one million citizens by reforming their felon disenfranchisement laws. These reform efforts include laws repealing lifetime disenfranchisement, allowing felons to vote while completing the terms of their probation or parole, eliminating requirements to pay legal financial obligations, and providing information to felons leaving correctional facilities about restoration of their voting rights and registering to vote. These state efforts are supported by studies finding that restoring voting rights to former felons fosters civic participation and reduces their likelihood of committing further crimes.

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in filing today’s amicus are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

 

# # #