HARRISBURG–Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced Pennsylvania’s fight to stop a new Florida law that creates barriers to voting for formerly incarcerated citizens, and threatens the American democratic process.
In an amicus brief with 20 states, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General said it stands in opposition to Florida’s “pay-to-vote” law because it requires returning citizens to pay all court-ordered financial obligations before they can vote.
“This is an unconstitutional ploy to change the ground rules for elections to discriminate against low income and minority members of our society,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Suppressing voting rights anywhere harms Pennsylvanians’ rights to a fair election and I’ll take the steps necessary to stop it.”
In Pennsylvania, voters are only ineligible if they are currently incarcerated for a felony or were convicted of violating the state Elections Code within the past four years. Returning citizens must only re-register in the Commonwealth to have the ability to vote.
Beyond voting rights, the Pennsylvania Reentry Council, a collaborative organization bringing together government agencies, service providers, advocates, returning citizens, and other stakeholders from across the Commonwealth, is helping counties create their own roadmaps for local reentry programs. PARC issued its annual report in March
Pennsylvania and 20 other states, led by Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, say the Florida law is illegal under their recent constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4. Prior to Amendment 4, citizens with felony convictions could only have their right to vote restored by executive clemency–which was far too rare. Amendment 4 granted Florida citizens the right to vote upon completion of their sentence, including probation and parole. Florida’s legislature tried to disenfranchise these voters once again by unlawfully conditioning their ability to vote on full payment of all court-ordered fines and fees–something that is not permitted under Amendment 4.
The amicus also argues that Florida’s law does not provide an adequate process for determining the amount owed. Also, Florida’s 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.
Felon disenfranchisement in the United States is the product of a disparate patchwork of state laws. 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 Pennsylvania, returning citizens mostly regain the right to vote as soon as they are released from incarceration.
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, which has allowed the law to remain in place until it hears the case, coincidentally, on Florida’s primary election day, Aug. 18. If the Court upholds “pay-to-vote,” nearly one million Floridians would be unable to cast ballots because they have unpaid legal financial obligations.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.
Attorney General Shapiro is part of this amicus brief and is joined by the Attorneys General from the District of Columbia, Illinois, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
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