Does Florida Really Want Ex-Felons to Vote?

Former prisoners can now go to the polls. But fines remain one obstacle. Believing anything will make a difference is another. That’s where Julius Irving comes in.

Comments: 85

  1. Reading this article, here is my suggestion for Mr Bloomberg. Your election spending will provide an excellent return if you pay the fines of all those felons and let them vote and get rid of the current administration. Once the new government comes - reverse the modern day poll tax imposed by the current Florida government.

  2. @Chandra Sekar A real opportunity for redemption after stop-and-frisk!

  3. @Chandra Sekar l only hope Mr, Bloomberg sees your post and follows your suggestion. It would be one more step in humanizing these disenfranchised Americans.

  4. Great Idea! I’ll try to tweet it to Bloomberg

  5. I do not question that the republican party is dying and will do anything to maintain political power. Trying to overturn the clear will of the people, voting people, to let ex-felons vote is appalling. But can't the Times find more positive examples for their story? "I have 10 kids . . . I'm not voting, no way." (From an former felon.) 10 kids? Really? And Mr. Irving, the focus of the story - charged with another felony for stabbing someone with a knife. For some reason, he's not in jail while awaiting trial. There are ex-felons out there who are no longer committing crimes. Can you please find some more positive role models for these reports? People really can turn their lives around, many people do.

  6. This article is just being honest. If we are really serious about democracy and justice, we must protect the franchise for all, including for people who have shown poor judgment or character. Voting is a right, not a privilege.

  7. Mr. Irving is a good example. He has political awareness and is trying to work within the system. I think that is the point of the article and why he is having so much trouble convincing people to vote. When the system is against you, and you are being judged at every turn, it isn't that easy. And his sister is right. His defense should be stand-your-ground, it's been successful for quite a few people in the state of Florida. Except he didn't have a gun and he isn't white. Funny how that works.

  8. @Michael Haddon Why? The point is that Mr. Washington has been inducted into the revolving door of judicial abuse from the age of 18 for a victimless crime based on bad drug policy and how it has led to recidivism, some to protect others from incarceration. That he was defending himself is the reason he is now being charged with attempted murder. The article shows the abuse he has been subjected while incarcerated. I think he is a positive example that despite the overwhelming abuse he continues to attempt to live an orderly life and trying to do some good. Why is he living in his car? He is a victim of a social system that required voting rights and that victimizes racial minorities. He's an excellent example to be featured.

  9. I saw a related story earlier this week making the case that felons not allowed to vote can sue on the basis of taxation without representation. Yes? No?

  10. God bless Mr. Irving! These are the people who use their struggles to uplift and empower others. I’m so happy he’s out there doing this important work. The powerless stay powerless unless we use our rights, new and old ones, to make our voices heard. Apathy destroys lives.

  11. Republicans love it when Americans don't vote. Sometimes Republicans suppress votes though voter suppression laws. But just as or more important for Republican voter suppression efforts is the effort to plant seeds of hopelessness, chaos and false equivalence in citizens minds so that they they begin to believe voting makes 'no difference'. But voting does make a difference. The two major parties are NOT equivalent. One party supports democracy, civil rights, representative government and the will of the people. The other party supports oligarchy, theocracy, tyranny of the minority and cheating through every means possible to steal and rig elections. In Feb 2020, The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court decision that ruled that the Republican legislature's Florida law limiting the voting rights of people with felony convictions was unconstitutional. What's clear in Florida and all over Republistan is that Republicans can't stand democracy, representative government or the United States Constitution. That should be a clue for decent Americans to never vote Republican.

  12. @Socrates 100% agreement with you. I always look forward to your comments.

  13. I hate reading infuriating stories like this, about such malicious, cowardly officials, and the truly terrible impact of their cowardly machinations on people like Mr Irving. Question: If Mr Irvin and others can't vote, can they run for office?

  14. The republican party keeps looking more and more like a certain German party from 80 years ago.

  15. The racist always come up with some way to restrict the franchise. Poll taxes, literacy tests, requirement to own real property, etc.. Fines and fees are a debt. Student loans are a debt, credit card obligations are a debt. Why are fines and fees the bar to voting? I suggest it is an attempt to perpetuate racist political power

  16. The organized vote manipulation that has been going on in florida for decades is criminal. No individual, no matter his/her crime, should ever be denied of the right to vote. This is essential in a democratic society. The fees and charges imposed to ex-convicts to discourage them to reinstate themselves as voters is so corrupt and undignified, it is shocking. Clearly Florida is not a democratic society and this must change at once or the state be disqualified to participate in federal elections.

  17. What do crime victims think of the requirement that felons pay the restitution owed to victims first before being eligible to vote again?

  18. @Addison Clark Like everyone else, felons still owe any restitution to the victims of a crime, just like anyone else. That's what the 14th amendment says - equal protection of the laws for everyone. It also gave ex-slaves citizenship, which includes the right to vote. The subsequent 15th amendment made it explicit and said that voting rights could not be denied on the basis of race, color or previous servitude. That didn't stop states denying them voting rights in indirect ways, often by setting a price they knew was unaffordable. Which is exactly what the Florida law does. The Supreme Court apparently doesn't believe that the Voting Rights Act is needed any more, which is what the state of Florida is hoping.

  19. @Addison Clark This is not about "restitution owed to victims", as you probable know perfectly well. Your rhetorical "question" is straw-man argument to deflect attention from a law intended to prevent a specific group of people from voting. The money owed by the former inmates are for court costs and fines. Paying off court costs of a few thousand dollars will take a low-income earner many years. With interest added, the debt will effectively prevent many of them from ever being able to vote. The intent and effect of the law is exactly like that of poll taxes during the Jim Crow era. Should we maybe take away your voting rights if you carry a balance on your credit card? Have a speeding ticket? Or maybe you have not paid off your mortgage yet? We can't abide debtors having representation in our government, can we?

  20. @Addison Clark What do the victims of slavery think about white America paying the restitution that they owe the descendants of slaves?

  21. I teach college in a New York State men's prison. I teach social work. Many of my men want to become social workers and return to the disadvantaged communities from which they came and help at risk youth. My lessons are embedded with class discussion and some of our discussions in social welfare policy revolve around voting. I have encouraged my men to register to vote and if released from prison prior to the 2020 election, to vote. I do understand the desire to withdraw that some of the men in the article have voiced, but in my experience, education makes a difference. I also help my students after release, to both continue their education with a free laptop computer and help registering for class and financial aid, and to assist with housing and employment. There are so many barriers to the formerly incarcerated, even for those who have a support network on the outside. So I help. Further disconnecting these men from society, by essentially barring their civic participation, makes it more likely they will return to prison. Rather than erect barriers, we need to tear them down. Prison is not only costly and inefficient, but it destroys personal growth often leading these men to poor decision making. By sending so many Black and Brown men to jail, we cut down on the number of marriageable men, leading to non-marital births. Outcomes for these children are poor, often leading back to the prison gates. Why do we continue this insanity?

  22. @Max T Great comment, and heartfelt thanks for your service.

  23. @Max T I had an uncle who went to prison for non-support and he was denied his right to vote for the remainder of his life. It was a societal shame that he took to his grave. We need to change our mindset regarding former felons. A single conviction doesn’t make you a criminal for life!

  24. @Max T BLESS you.

  25. This also shows the real need to make marijuana legal in this country. Now that it is becoming a booming business in places where it is legal, it is unfair for so many to suffer the consequences of previously unjust laws and their overzealous enforcement. I don't want anymore young people to be charged with felonies, making them "criminals" for merely possessing a substance that has become a normal part of everyday life. It is a stigma that is not easily overcome. And those who are in jail need to be released and have their records expunged. Justice is also recognizing who benefits from legalization and who isn't benefiting.

  26. So was allowing ex-felons to vote seen by progressive Democrats as a Machiavellian way to increase Democratic Party voter registration and voting in Florida? Of course, that's the assumption, given the apparent demographics of ex-felons. Is that what the party is seeking next, the criminal vote? That should be easy for Joe Biden, given the ease he permitted his two brothers and son Hunter to use him for influence peddling.

  27. A country that calls itself a "democracy" should never strip its citizens of the right to vote. Polling places should be set up in prisons (as occurs in other "democracies") and all citizens should automatically be registered to vote upon turning voting age. Voting is supposed to be a right, not a privilege.

  28. Does this requirement apply to over due parking tickets? If you want to know if a law criteria is racist just look for the crimes white people commit and see if the law applies to them. You know it won't. I have a niece in Prison in Oregon. She will not go home to her family but will come to us when she is released. What we have discovered is that the criminal justice system isn't the least bit interested in safety for communities or in justice of any kind. They provide no help to those us preparing a home my niece. We give her money so she is safe while in prison. The supposedly give her work training, such as fire fighting. I have discovered that fire houses won't hire her because she is a felon ( she took her mother credit card and was charged with felony Identification theft). Drugs were at the bottom of her issues. We will receive not help at all for ongoing drug treatment. We are entirely on our own for figuring out best practices to help her be successful. States claim to care but racial minorities and the poor are far more likely to have large fines plague their futures. My niece has us to help her. I have nightmares of what would happen if she didn't.

  29. @Patricia Tawney Good for you for stepping up to help your niece!

  30. I've been living in Florida for a long time, and, believe me, this state is racist. As you drive on I75 in Tampa you can't miss the gigantic confederate flag just off the highway. That flag is a metaphor for Jim Crow here that runs deep. In 2000 Jeb Bush had tens of thousands of minority voters thrown off the rolls just in time for his brother's election. Then the Republicans on the Supreme Court ordered a stop to a recount, just because they felt like it. A vote count a year later showed Gore had won Florida and the presdency. Same with HRC. Voter suppression has been going on forever here. It is always about race. If every citizen had mail in ballots in Florida the GOP would win nothing, except up in the Panhandle and the white retirees in a strange place called The Villages, but that's another story altogether. The lawmakers in Florida are scared to death that former prisoners will be able to vote. It's no surprise they will fight hard to keep democracy from breaking out down here.

  31. We talk about what is fair and people paying for their crimes, but in my opinion the rate of people convicted of these crimes is really disproportional. How many white kids can afford a good lawyer to get out off this? When people get out of prison and get a job, don't they still have to pay taxes? Can they be exempt from taxes if they can' vote? You are labeled for life. I am a white woman from NY so I can't begin to know how it feels. But what I do know is that the past is never really the past. I have been sober 30 years, but prior to getting sober I did commit crimes and I did go to prison. After getting sober I was able to go back to school. (Thank God they didn't ask for arrest records). I had to go through a long process to apply for a professional license. But you know what? To this day, if I fill out a job application I am asked about convictions and have to be fingerprinted. And the whole record comes up. So as I said, the past is never the past.

  32. It seems nothing makes (most) Republicans uneasier than a person of color in a voting booth.

  33. @Sean Women having any real power is right up there, also.

  34. The drug conviction is the result of ridiculous federal policies and state laws outlawing marijuana. His arrest on that charge was undoubtedly the result of racism. Mr. Irving would be a far more sympathetic subject of this article if he hadn't knifed that man. The guy with 10 children really needs to visit a clinic for a vasectomy.

  35. @Jumank Why is rascism always the excuse to explain some people's choices?

  36. You mean “ turn the knife on himself?” Please take a long look at yourself in the mirror and try to imagine yourself in his shoes. Ask yourself What did you do to uphold the constitution recently?

  37. @Mark No, I meant what I said. And as to what I've done recently, I've sat across from legislators and testified on issues affecting children and youth for a long time. And many of those points have been accepted and put into law. That's not upholding the constitution, but I don't recall that being the point of the story. As to what I would have done, it depends on who drew the knife. In this instance he did, not his supposed attacker.

  38. As I am not an attorney I am puzzled by what appears to be a fundamental breach of the Constitution. The people of Florida on a certain date permitted ex-felons to vote. The legislature subsequently voted these financial impediments. The key word is "subsequently". In effect the Legislature voted an additional sanction against these people after finishing incarceration (even though they might have continued on parole). How is it permissible that an additional sanction is possible? Would it be permissible to create a whole series of additional requirements, e.g. in order to restore the right to vote all ex-felons must earn a college degree before their rights are restored? If the Legislature passes a bill saying "after July 1st such-and-such is a consequece of incarceration" that's one thing. But to make a punishment retrospective is questionable. With the right legislative change perhaps Florida could send former Gov. Scott to prison for something that was not state law when he ran afoul of the federal government some years ago.

  39. @usa999 Many state legislatures have the ability to alter or enhance referendums or initiatives. In some states there is a set time period that the initiatives can't be altered, in others the legislature is required to establish laws aligned with its intent. I'm not familiar with Florida's regulations regarding this, but I assume they have the ability to act.

  40. I wish I could tell Mr Washington that by not voting he allows the worst people to remain in office because he and others like him fail to hold our elected officials accountable. Every vote matters. The l people that want to stop you from voting don’t deserve a place in any government. You matter Mr Washington. Please count yourself in

  41. He and many in that community needs educating badly. Their ignorance allows the worse in that corrupt state to rule and enrich themselves and their families. This level of ignorance is dangerous!

  42. I think that John Oliver needs to devote a show to this topic and start some sort of site where anyone can donate. It could make the difference and educate viewers at the same time.

  43. I think John Oliver has already focused on the topic, especially of bail fines.

  44. A lot of non-felons use the same excuse for not voting.

  45. Please explain why any person (regardless of race) who has gone to prison and served their time should ever lose the right to vote. What is the fear, or concern? I understand the need for bona fide occupational qualifications for some ex-felons but any single vote cast in an election (however valuable to that single voter) could never alter the legitimacy of an election regardless of who votes! What is the logic for this requirement beyond reconstruction Era punitive punishment.

  46. @Frederick "bonafide occupation qualifications?" For what purpos? What does that even mean? Do non-felons have to prove a "bonafid occupation qualification?"

  47. "And we won’t find housing no matter who is the president." Housing is one of Senator Bernie Sanders prime issues he wants to address if he is elected President. Why does the Black Community overwhelmingly support Biden? Biden won't help the Black community the way a Sanders Administration would.

  48. @Deidre Selig I am 71 y.o. Black Sanders supporter. I see Sanders problem is his failure to reach out to Black elected officials. Sanders' proclivity of appearing to go it alone is contributing to his undoing. Contrast that to Biden's endorsement by Jim Claiborne and his mention of Jaime Harrison, senate candidate, just prior to the South Carolina primary. These actions sealed the deal for Biden.

  49. @Deidre Selig because church moms vote. Ex cons not so much.

  50. Isn't it the law of the land that "if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided?" I have never heard of then making the defendant pay, is this even legal? It would certainly seem to grossly invalidate "equal protection under the law." And knowing Florida I wonder just how outlandish they inflate the bill. John Oliver did a great segment showing Rick Scott as governor denying restoration of voting right after the man had become a community leader, church leader, and pretty much was nothing but a model citizen. No reason, no thought, just "NO." Are we going to be fighting the civil war forever? Pretty disgusting.

  51. If you don't want to do time then don't commit the crime.

  52. @James That principle should apply to the Florida Legislature. Their crimes will not be forgotten.

  53. @James You take a poor black boy, deprive him of a good education and raise him on the margins with hardly more than the basic necessities of life if he is lucky. He grows into a man with little prospect for a decent job and arrest him for stealing a loaf of bread and you release him with no support or assistance as to how to reenter society, subjecting him to a life of constant legal jeopardy of rearrest. Is it any surprise that he is at risk of recidivism. It sounds to me as if you are blaming the victim. The crime is poverty. We are all complicit.

  54. Why is the plea of self defence not being pursued? Is the defence attorney white? Seems to me, if you did your time, you get to start over clean and should have help to do this. God help this man, and please let us know how to contribute or his defence

  55. A great article. Really good writing. From slave ship to Supermax. God help us.

  56. Chilling! No wonder we're not getting anywhere with either corrections/justice reform or race relations.

  57. It's not our country, so I don't have a vote. We watched 13th on Netflix last night and when it was over, we both just sat there in silence. It's not black /white utopia here in Canada but at the very least, the black leaders here not been gunned down. No one can be made a slave except......

  58. This law is an extension of Jim Crow..really pathetic. Voters clearly stated their wishes, but the republican party..no longer can compete based on fair elections, and without cheating the GOP will be reduced to a xenophobic political minority. I can't wait when they shall self destruct; what a useless party.

  59. Slavery by another name.

  60. “ By 2016, Florida maintained lifetime voting bans on nearly one in five black people in the state.” These numbers are nuts. This is disenfranchisement of the worst kind.

  61. Bloomberg has the pockets to "buy" Florida by paying the fines of the ex-felons who by letter of FL law would have an unrestricted right to vote once their fines were settled. Why not?

  62. @zephen Maybe that would’ve seen as acquiescence and it’s better to win a legal case?

  63. A very compelling article. But the information I waited for that never came is: (i ) What is the current status of the legal case that is challenging Florida's government to prevent x-felons to vote unless they have paid all court costs. (ii) Is the civil action a class action? (iii) is it before Florida's highest court? (iv) when is a decision expected? I would love to read an recent article in the New York Times that provides this data.

  64. Mr. Irving and Ms. Polk are everyday heroes.

  65. Mr. Irving...keep at it!! I cannot tell you how many times I hear from people, young people especially, that their vote does not matter, so what is the point of voting. Generally speaking, we do not give our youth a thorough civics education, so how are they supposed to know that in so many ways, state and even more local elections can have repercussions so much more direct and immediate than presidential elections. You have only to look at the way the current administration has handled the Covid-19 pandemic and compare it to the proactive leadership of our states' governors to see that your vote does indeed count. Do not give up!

  66. since when does anyone who uses a public defender have to pay money back for that public defender. that is enslaving a person all over again. a defendant has a constitutional right to an attorney. the constitution doesn't say anything about paying money to the state after you are freed.

  67. Why doesn’t President Obama do a few ‘get out the vote’ rallies for ex-cons in Florida. I think they would listen to him and he could effectively communicate the need for them to exercise their right to vote.

  68. The Democrats, no less than the Republicans, pushed the "Law and Order" agenda and its brutal concomitants like "Three Strikes." Biden himself was one of most complicit in constructing the vicious incarceration regime that tripled the percentage of almost entirely poor and disproportionately black inmates in the 1990s. When they say no one represents their interest, they are speaking the truth. The establishment channels through every mechanism social outrage behind the completely safe harbors of the Republicans and the Democrats. Socialists (and Sanders is not one) need not apply.

  69. I lived in north Florida for ten years. When my underprivileged black students would ask for career/life advice, I’d tell them all the same thing: “leave.” Perhaps I was shortsighted in dispensing this advice. As an athletic white kid in grad school there, I could do no wrong. I’ll never forget being apprehended by police once while walking alone at night - after I pulled down my hoodie, and the white officers saw the color of my skin, they relaxed, gave me a conspiring smile, and said, “we’re looking for a black man.” They let me go, leaving me to wonder if they were looking for a specific black man who’d actually been accused of a crime, or if any black man would have sufficed. I returned, heartbroken, to Colorado, but people like you, Mr Irving, can save the whole world. Here’s what I mean: I blame the state of Florida for the election of George W Bush, and the resultant disasters of the Iraq war, the Great Recession, and the lost opportunity of a Gore presidency, which would have gained us twenty years in the fight against global warming. I couldn’t change north Florida, no matter how passionately I taught science nor how stridently I tried to impart progressive environmental values instilled in me by my home state. But you, Mr Irving, can connect to those souls that I couldn’t reach, and doing so will not only free the enslaved minds of Florida’s many oppressed, but could also save the neck of a faraway privileged person like me. You are desperately needed.

  70. There are three initiative that Michael Bloomberg can do with his billions to assure a massive victory and Republican rout and the banishment of the likes of Trump and “Moscow Mitch!” The first is to set up rapidly a program to pay forward all of the fines, court costs and public defender charges that essentially constitute poll taxes.This will be a huge undertaking as there is not any databases for voting registrars available to verify voter eligibility. The second would be huge mega class project for future information systems talent to obtain lists of purged voters in the state of Ohio and several southern states, and a coordinated tracking systems for volunteers to help these victims to be able to reregister. In the case of the first, the losses for Bill Nelson and Andrew Gilliam was well under one percent. With some ten percent of Florida residents ineligible ex-felons, the benefit of counteracting the voter suppression by the governor and legislative body would the obvious! The third item would be to fund TV ads for Amy McGrath to help her drive McConnell out of office. Guess who was the Secretary of Labor back in 2008 during the Central Canyon mining disaster in Utah when first responders and rescue workers were be permanently entombed? It was Elain Chao, who was being led by the hand by her hubby in the stare of Kentucky! On his re-election trips like a smirk-faced rag doll! An add with the interleaving of these two events would be devastating!

  71. The Jesse James - John Dillinger culture Was literally saved by FDR policies That were abandoned in 1964 On July 2nd, to be exact

  72. No surprise (it is the NYT) so many commenters think it an injustice that criminals should pay restitution. They cost the state billion$ in tax money.

  73. @Reader In Wash, DC Maybe the state creates those bills when it puts black people in prison for longer periods of time than white people who commit the same crime or worse. If you're worried about your taxes, change the unfair judicial and prison system. Somepeople do belong in prison to keep society safe. For others, such long sentences are unfair.

  74. Florida government is terrible; tourists should boycott the state until it treats all people, regardless of skin tone, sex, prison experience, fairly. And fairness includes abolishing the outrageous practice of levying fines or court costs on newly released prisoners. Is Florida trying to preserve some kind of indentured servitude?

  75. If someone is banging on the window threatening you, don't open the door to fight him and then stab him. I'm all for recruiting new voters from ex-felons, but you just can't go around stabbing people. Self defense? Please. This man is wasting his talents and he has mostly himself to blame.

  76. The Jesse James - John Dillinger culture Literally saved by FDR policies All abandoned in 1964 July 2, to be exact

  77. this man is a proper American Hero

  78. I am truly amazed at the fearful, judgmental thinking here. Can we not be redeemed? If you judge one person unredeemable, then you crucify yourself.

  79. The criminals are the republican legislators working hard to keep americans from voting

  80. There is no such thing as an “ex felon.” Once you are a felon, it is for life...should have made better choices.

  81. People are not rational, don't mature until much later in life than we realized and grew up with life circumstances much worse than ours. Just ask!

  82. @Simon White privilege gives more options and safety even when whites commit crimes. If they're even arrested for those crimes they either get of without jail time, plead down to a lesser offense or if incarcerated receive far shorter sentences than blacks. Perhaps if you think it's strictly a matter of making poor choices then you're ignorant that those choices don't exist for poor black people. Maybe you should be subjected to the same restrictions and racial policies and have your employment opportunities limited or non-existent as a former felon that contributes to the high rate of recidivism. Prison is a big business and a major employer. They've got to find someone to keep the business supplied with inmates.

  83. @Simon Oh, for god's sake. Prison is the price to be paid for your mistake. It earns you the right to return to society.

  84. There are 2 points that I think too often get overlooked. One is that I could bet my bottom dollar that If Irving was a white college student from an affluent family, he would have been able to plead self defense and had a lawyer that cared about defending him. Or at the worst, would not have faced attempted first degree murder which, if my memory serves me, indicates planning to harm. The other statement that is the black crime rate is so high. Why? Because people of color are more likely to be apprehended, & more likely to be incarcerated. Note Irving’s previous record. Hardly a major threat to society. Sad that the very people who need to become part of the electorate feel so disenfranchised that they withdraw completely. There ARE ways to fight the system. There ARE people coming into public service who need votes to be able to make a difference. S.C. has a large non-white population, yet far right GOP controls their Senate/House representation and keeps the Confederacy alive. Without your vote, you have no voice. Full disclosure: I am an old white lady who aspired to register minority young people coming of voting age in 2016. I realized that to go into a Black community I might not be taken at my word since I am just an old white lady. So I reached out to Black organizations repeatedly for 6 months to get ONE volunteer to go with me to validate the importance of voting. Dozens of promises that “someone will get back to you. No takers. No new voters registered.

  85. Entrenched racism, pure and simple. It's sickening to hear public servants like Bill Cervone say that minorities just commit more crimes. He's lazy and ignorant.