After Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored the right to vote to over 1.4 million residents who had completed their sentences for felony convictions, the Legislature introduced and passed a law known as SB 7066, which requires people with past felony convictions to pay fines, fees and restitution before they can vote. The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit that describes how the payment requirement is an unconstitutional poll tax and discriminates against people based on their wealth.
The SPLC lawsuit was filed on behalf of people like Rosemary McCoy who, months after regaining the right to vote, faces revocation of that right “based purely on their low-income economic status.” The complaint notes how Florida “has a very long and storied history of denying poor people, racial minorities, and women the right to vote.”
Women of color are paid less than their male and white female counterparts, and are likely to be more adversely affected by the new law. Nearly a quarter of all black women in Florida live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate for black women with a felony conviction is more than 43 percent.
McCoy and Sheila Singleton, both black women from Jacksonville, Florida, are the named plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, which describes how the law violates the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law and freedom from poll taxes and excessive fines. The lawsuit also states that the new law violates the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
McCoy, who was sentenced to and served 24 months of prison time and 18 months of probation, registered to vote and cast a ballot in Jacksonville’s runoff city council election after Amendment 4 was passed. Under new law, however, people like McCoy, who owes more than $7,000 in restitution, would not be eligible to cast a ballot. McCoy cannot afford to repay the debt – as interest continues to accrue – even as her struggle to find employment has become harder due to her criminal conviction.
The new law contradicts the intent and plain language of Amendment 4, the lawsuit states.