The Future of Felon Disenfranchisement Reform: Evidence from the Campaign to Restore Voting Rights in Florida

In 2018, Amendment 4 sought to end felon disenfranchisement in Florida.  This article outlines the history of Amendment 4 and shows how unpaid fines and fees undermined the campaign’s efforts. To quantify fines and fees as a barrier to the restoration of voting rights, the author analyzed administrative court records for each felony case in 27 of Florida’s 67 counties since 2000.  Because the vast majority of people with felony convictions owe fines and fees, the vast majority will likely be too poor to restore their right to vote.

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Key Findings: 

  • The median felony case resulted in $815 in fines and fees, with a current balance of $667.
  • 80 percent of cases have some remaining balance. 
  • The median amount assessed doubled from $475 in 2000, to a peak of $935 in 2011.
  • The average annual income of people with felony is less than $25,00 and even less for those formerly incarcerated. 
  • One-third of fully paid cases were paid within one year.
  • The statewide association of court clerks in Florida estimates that 23 percent of all fines and fees assessed in felony cases in 2018 is unlikely to ever be collected because the defendant is indigent, and 8 percent because the debts have been converted to civil liens.
  • Where Black defendants still owe $368, White defendants owe just $25. 
  • 73 percent of White people with felony convictions and 84 percent of Black people with felony convictions have outstanding fines and fees. 
  • As of 2020, 5 million people could not vote because of a criminal conviction.
Michael Morse
California Law Review Vol. 109 No. 3