The purpose of this project is to examine the impact of recent reforms to the criminal justice system and felony disenfranchisement laws on the restoration of voting rights for people with prior felony convictions. Focusing on Florida, this project will first examine the potential relationship between the decarceration and re-enfranchisement movements and second will describe the process people with felony convictions must follow to regain their right to vote following recent reform efforts.
In 2018, Florida voters passed a ballot referendum (Amendment 4) to automatically restore the voting rights of people convicted of a felony—except murder or sexual offenses—after the completion of their sentences. However, in 2019, legislation was passed (SB 7066) that made the restoration of voting rights conditional on the payment of all legal financial obligations (LFOs)—restitution, fines, and fees. This project focuses on the impact of Florida’s new policy conditioning the restoration of voting rights on the payment of all LFOs.
The first phase of the project examines the potential relationship between the decarceration and re-enfranchisement movements by analyzing trends in felony sentences and the assessment of LFOs from 1994 to 2018 using data from Florida’s Office of the State Court Administrator’s (OSCA) Offender-Based Transaction System (OBTS). The second phase of the project involves obtaining detailed information on the re-enfranchisement process through interviews with key personnel from Leon County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller’s Office, Leon County Supervisor of Elections, State Attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, Public Defender for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, and non-profit reentry services providers.
The results of our analyses of the OBTS data revealed sharp increases in the number of felony prison and jail sentences and felony sentences containing any LFOs from 1994 to 2008, followed by a steady decline through 2018; however, the decline in LFOs was not as steep as that for prison and jail sentences. Through the interviews, the study found the re-enfranchisement process requires the navigation of many bureaucratic systems, which oftentimes can be complex and challenging. Specifically, individuals wishing to restore their right to vote face a large burden to ensure they are eligible and there is substantial ambiguity in the legal penalties if they are later found to be ineligible to vote. As a result, these difficulties and legal ambiguities may create fear among those wishing to restore their right to vote, resulting in them choosing not to pursue the process altogether.
Graduate Students: Kaylee Noorman
Funding Agency: FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy