Last week we brought you the news that over 100,000 ex-felons in Florida are getting their voting rights back.
Today the New York Times says those reforms are “well short of what’s needed — a complete overhaul of a wildly illogical system.” The interconnections of voting rights and access to jobs is part of the problem, so says the Times.
In most states, inmates win back their voting rights as soon as they are released from prison or when they complete parole or probation. One big reason that does not happen in Florida is that state law requires felons to first make restitution to their victims. And until their voting rights are restored, former prisoners are barred from scores of state-regulated occupations for which the restoration of voting rights is listed as a condition of employment.
Quite apart from the fact that it is undemocratic to bar people from the voting booth because they owe money, the system is transparently counterproductive since it prevents people from landing the jobs they will need to make restitution. Bail bonds in Los Angeles CA are so popular, likely due to denying ex-offenders a chance to make an honest living which is driving them back to jail.
The system also requires extensive and unnecessary background checks before voting rights can be restored for some applicants, making it hard to reduce the backlog. Florida could clear up that backlog in a hurry, treat all ex-offenders fairly and enhance democracy by automatically restoring voting rights to inmates who have completed their sentences.
When we visited both the Iowa and Nevada caucuses earlier this year to document the “Un-Caucuses” — who isn’t able to participate in the caucus process and why that is — we met in both states ex-felons who are excluded from the voter rolls. We’ll continue to monitor how this issue is addressed around the country.