Excerpted From: Natalie Kenny, A Modern Jim Crow: Felon Disenfranchisement in Florida, 54 Seton Hall Law Review 311 (2023) (108 Footnotes) (Full Document)


NatalieKennyJohn Boyd Rivers eagerly cast his ballot in the 2020 presidential election for Donald Trump. His excitement was later squashed when he was arrested for voter fraud on the grounds that he was ineligible to vote. The 2020 presidential election was the first time that Rivers voted since the age of eighteen due to Florida's lifetime felon disenfranchisement laws. In February 2020, while Rivers was sitting in his jail cell, a county representative delivered the news that Florida's laws had changed, and told Rivers to register to vote so he could exercise his newly restored right once released. The county representative directed him to disregard the check box on the voter registration form that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a felony because he did not have a qualifying felony conviction to be exempt from the voting restoration law. No one ever told Rivers that he needed to pay off any financial obligations associated with his sentence before registering to vote, and the jail did not give Rivers information about his outstanding financial obligations upon his release.

In November 2018, the people of Florida voted for Amendment 4 to Florida's Constitution, which declares that all individuals with qualifying felony convictions regain the right to vote immediately upon completion of all terms of their sentences. The passage of Amendment 4 was a triumph and a celebration for individuals who thought they would be disenfranchised for the rest of their lives. Voting rights advocates and local supervisors of elections started doing outreach in local communities including in jails, encouraging individuals to register to vote in accordance with Amendment 4. Soon after, however, these individuals realized that Florida's state officials never planned on allowing them to vote. Instead, the state imposed procedural barriers to determine what it meant to complete all terms of a sentence to regain voting eligibility.

This Comment examines the history of felon disenfranchisement in Florida and how the state's implementation of the voter initiative, Amendment 4, undermines the restoration of the right to vote for individuals with qualifying felony convictions. It argues that the inability of individuals to determine what they must pay in order regain voting eligibility violates procedural due process, rendering the implementation statutes void for vagueness, and further that the establishment of Florida's Office of Election Crimes is a modern voter intimidation tactic. Part II of this Comment explores the history of felon disenfranchisement in Florida and courts' historical willingness to uphold felon disenfranchisement. Next, Part III explains Amendment 4, Senate Bill 7066 (“SB 7066”), and its accompanying criminal statutes, including their passage, implementation, and ramifications, providing background for the law's violation of procedural due process. Part IV discusses the void for vagueness doctrine, the Fourteenth Amendment's procedural due process standard and analyzes the Eleventh Circuit's Jones v. Governor of Florida decision, its implications, and examines how the actions and statements of Florida's top officials led to and will continue to further strong voter intimidation in upcoming elections. Part V briefly concludes.

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Florida has a continued history of disenfranchising individuals with felony convictions, a remnant of the Jim Crow era that disproportionately affects Black individuals. The passage of SB 7066 was the legislature's way of circumventing Amendment 4, a voter initiative to automatically restore these individuals' voting rights. This shows Florida's continued effort to suppress and deter votes from underrepresented groups. Florida discourages individuals with felony convictions from voting with the establishment of its election crimes unit along with state officials' threatening statements, culminating in a modern-day voter intimidation tactic.

The lack of procedure and the inability of the state to determine the number of LFOs individuals owe to restore their voting rights violates their procedural due process right to proper notice before being deprived of the right to vote. Floridians' voices and the fundamental right of all eligible individuals to vote will not be honored until Florida allocates resources to establish a robust procedure for individuals to determine what LFOs they are required to pay before voting, and its officials stop threatening individuals with the fear of reentering the criminal justice system if they miscalculate their outstanding LFOs.

J.D. Candidate, 2024, Seton Hall University School of Law; B.S., 2019, Seton Hall University.