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Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Thursday, October 07, 2021

Twenty years ago, Judy Bolden served 18 months in a Florida prison. She has been free ever since, but she is still barred from voting by the state until she pays all court fines and fees associated with her conviction. [S]he said she had received a letter informing her that her outstanding debt was a few hundred dollars. Then she checked the Volusia County website and learned that she actually owes nearly $53,000.

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This is the way it's been in Florida for a century and a half, ever since the state's Constitution was amended shortly after the Civil War to bar those convicted of a felony from voting. That ban, like similar ones in many other states, was the work of white politicians intent on keeping ballots, and thus political power, out of the hands of millions of Black people who had just been freed from slavery and made full citizens.

Even as other states began reversing their own bans in recent years, Florida remained a holdout - until 2018, when Floridians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to nearly everyone with a criminal record, upon the completion of their sentence. (Those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense were excluded.)

Democratic and Republican voters alike approved the measure, which passed with nearly two-thirds support. Immediately, as many as 1.4 million people in the state became eligible to vote. It was the biggest expansion of voting rights in decades, anywhere in the country.

That should have been the end of it. But within a year, Florida's Republican-led Legislature gutted the reform by passing a law defining a criminal sentence as complete only after the person sentenced has paid all legal financial obligations connected to it.

The state adds insult to injury by making it difficult, if not impossible, for many of these people, like Ms. Bolden, to figure out what they owe. There is no central database with those numbers, and counties vary in their record-keeping diligence. Some convictions are so old that there are no records to be located.

This isn't just Kafkaesque. It may well be the deciding factor in Florida elections: Donald Trump carried the state by roughly 370,000 votes in 2020, or about half the number of Floridians who are denied the right to vote because they can't afford to pay their fines and fees.

If Florida Republicans spent a fraction of the time actually trying to improve the lives and safety of their constituents instead of usurping the expressed will of voters and actively disenfranchising as many of those they see as opposition voters, the state would be far better than it currently is.

One day there will be a reckoning for those responsible for so much abhorrent anti-democratic, openly racially-skewed behavior. Here's hoping the countervailing political whirlwinds come as swiftly as Mother Nature's many tropical cyclones do to the state of Florida.

#1 | Posted by tonyroma at 2021-10-07 03:06 PM | Reply

Prison is the cost of doing crime. As bad as it is to be a victim of crime, as I have been, there should be no expectation of restitution from someone who was in prison as a result of your property loss....especially if they have no assets.

If someone has the assets to cover restitution upon their release, they should.

...except for politicians. Any politician to commits a crime costing the public money should pay back everything even if it pushes them into eternal poverty.

#2 | Posted by jamesgelliott at 2021-10-07 07:01 PM | Reply

It appears the original restitution was in the $100's of dollars (and is from 20 years ago). It's absurd to hold her up for 10's of $1,000's today. The right is so hung up on punishing people (except right-wing politicians, of course).

#3 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2021-10-07 10:02 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

There is no justification for the legislature to usurp the intent of Florida's voters. The very fact that such a codicil to the amendment was even deemed legal is aborent to the voters themselves and should never have been allowed by the Florida Supreme Court (or any state court with jurisdiction).

#4 | Posted by tonyroma at 2021-10-07 11:31 PM | Reply

Until you make restitution, you should not get any rights restored.

#5 | Posted by Skeptical at 2021-10-08 04:25 AM | Reply

let me take a wild guess at this...

All black and brown people?

yep...the South is STILL the
Racist South.

#6 | Posted by earthmuse at 2021-10-08 06:08 AM | Reply

There is no justification for the legislature to usurp the intent of Florida's voters

Sure there is. He's not rich and white.

#7 | Posted by Nixon at 2021-10-08 06:39 AM | Reply

Until you make restitution, you should not get any rights restored.

Did you read the details at all? First, the people's amendment - which affirminately received 2/3rds of the vote - contained no such stipulation. The legislature inserted their own will to blunt what the voters actually passed because they deemed the new law would hurt the Republican Party at the ballot box. This is not a valid reason for passing laws. The law does not serve the Florida people, it only serves the GOP's political objective to limit ballot access to who they perceive as likely voters for other parties.

Second, Florida never had a comprehensive database or systems that kept track of these debts, making it impossible for many former convicts to even find out how much and to whom they owe money. If there are no or incomplete records, what is a person supposed to do?

Third, many of these debts have been turned over to debt collection companies which have tacked on exorbitant fees and interest onto some tabs pushing them into 10s of thousands of dollars. Not to mention that each additional court appearance adds further fees to their totals when ex-convicts try to adjudicate their new legislature-dictated situations.

Fourth, having your freedom taken away IS paying for your crime. If lawmakers are actually interested in restitution then they should create work opportunities for convicts still incarcerated to pay off their debts during their confinement, not actually add the additional sentence of being an indentured servant even after completing prison stints.

#8 | Posted by tonyroma at 2021-10-08 08:26 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 2

"Until you make restitution, you should not get any rights restored."

Tony's response to your ignorant post is sufficient. I don't need to add anything. Racist much? In the South we know who is prevented from voting, and it is usually black people. Surprise! If you voted Republcans for Legislators, Governors, etc. then, deep down, you are a racist and everyone knows it.

#9 | Posted by danni at 2021-10-08 11:27 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

#5

The right to vote should never be taken away in the first place. Set up voting booths in the prisons.

#10 | Posted by DarkVader at 2021-10-08 06:20 PM | Reply

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