Florida’s Felons, Not Quite Back on the Voter Rolls Yet

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Remember Florida’s referendum last year that restored the right to vote to more than 1.4 million felons? A bit more than 64 percent of Floridians voted in support of it, and on January 8, an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions became eligible to register to vote.

But in July, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill declaring that before voting rights could be restored, felons had to settle all financial obligations related to their sentences, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law. This restriction could be hugely consequential; an estimated 80 percent of the state’s felons have unpaid financial obligations imposed by courts during sentencing. Two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that individuals too poor to pay back their financial obligations should not be prevented from voting, and granted a preliminary injunction.

Today the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments about the law requiring financial obligations to be paid.

Separately, it’s not clear that many of Florida’s 1.4 million felons are rushing to restore their voting rights — which may not be surprising, considering how this is an off year, with only a special state legislative election and some local offices and measures on the ballot this year.

So far this year, 454,881 people have joined the voter rolls in Florida. At first glance, that looks like a giant surge, but we don’t know what proportion are felons and what proportion are non-felons and people moving into the state. But Florida also tracks “active removals” — cases where the voter becomes ineligible, or if a Supervisor of Election received notice from another state election official that the voter has registered out-of-state, or the voter requests in writing to be removed — and “inactive” voters, where there is no voting or voter registration record activity for two subsequent general election cycles. (As a state with many elderly and retirement communities, it is not surprising that a place nicknamed “God’s waiting room” would end up with significant numbers of registered voters becoming inactive each year.)

So far in 2019, Florida has 175,511 “active” removals and 195,532 “inactive” removals, for a sum total of 371,043 removed from the rolls. That adds up to 83,838 new voters in the Sunshine State so far this year — nothing to sneeze at, but a drop in the bucket of a state with 13.5 million registered voters. It is possible that the pool of voters is becoming more friendly to Democrats, with ex-felons registering and elderly Republicans passing away, but we simply don’t have data to back up that theory yet.

The number of voters who are added to the roles and removed from year to year varies a great deal. The most added in a single year was 1,049,520 in 2008 (!) and the fewest was 327,124 in 2009. In 2005, the state removed 639,764 (!), but two years later, the state removed just 202,647.

One other wrinkle: so far in 2019, the number of registered Republicans in the state has increased by 23,084, while the number of registered Democrats in the state has increased by 10,731.

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