On the Florida Felon Voting 2/19/2020 Federal Court Decision, and Parallels in College Transcripts

This is an email I wrote regarding Florida felon voting enfranchisement and money owed.

February 20, 2020

Hi everyone,

I think this is an excellent quote from the recent Federal court ruling on Florida’s constitutional felon voting enfranchisement amendment and against disenfranchisement for not having paid legal financial obligations, on page 27:

The problem with the incentive–collections theory is that it relies on the notion that the destitute would only, with the prospect of being able to vote, begin to scratch and claw for every penny, ignoring the far more powerful incentives that already exist for them—like putting food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs. The simple truth is that a collection-based rationale for those who genuinely cannot pay, and who offer no immediate prospects of being able to do so, erects a barrier “without delivering any money at all.”

This is a victory, but I think it applies only to the 17 plaintiffs so it remains to be seen what will happen more broadly, and Governor DeSantis and Secretary Lee will keep fighting.

Note that the case is based on wealth discrimination, not racial discrimination, and case law says that discriminatory intent does not need to be proved when it comes to wealth discrimination, but rather the actual observed outcomes are what matter. This is something I think should be broadly implemented regarding finance, insurance, investing, and other money-related matters, and has begun to hold weight with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and government agencies. For instance, if the majority of consumers are misled by a particular contract or financial product based on its wording, presentation, fine print, et cetera, and fail to comprehend it and/or fail to act in their own best interests, then that should be grounds for laws or regulations requiring that it be presented more clearly, rather than the alternative of blaming the consumer and deeming him or her lackadaisical or foolish (Willis, 2017).

The Trump cheerleaders and propagandists are in full swing in comment sections on social media and news websites talking about how unfair it is to victims that they will supposedly not be getting their restitution now that felons allegedly have no incentive to pay, as well as other half-baked ideas and mistruths about one’s debt to society, Democrats being the party of criminals and con artists, and claiming it should be as clear as daylight that one has not completed their sentence unless they are 100% paid up. Obviously, the group of people that actually reads court cases or articles and the group of people who post comments on said articles do not have much overlap. None of the critics acknowledge that one can be on a payment plan and not behind on payments, or that the amount owed can be insurmountable, stretching on for years or longer. I wonder if these same commentators would agree that no one should be allowed to live in a house while they are paying the mortgage?

I think there are parallels between the legal financial obligations interpretation of Florida’s constitutional amendment and the standard practice of colleges and universities refusing to release transcripts unless all debts are paid, down to something as small as a dental cleaning or parking ticket, or for being delinquent on student loans. There are also parallels with punitive fines against homeowners for code violations, resulting in liens that disincentive moving or selling a house (because all of the proceeds would go toward the liens) and no incentive to remedy the piles of junk in the yard, tall grass and weeds, or other deficiencies. Dunedin, Florida is known for this and has recently been advised by consultants to cap and scale back their fines. However, whereas cities and institutions of higher education are incentivized to behave this way to increase collections, I think it is plainly clear that this interpretation of Florida’s constitutional amendment, which was promulgated by Republicans, is not about revenue at all, but rather partisan voter suppression.

We are also fighting the 1951 ballot order law which was then supported by Democrats when Florida was a blue state, but now disadvantages Democrats who are only listed first on ballots if they control the governorship. Of course, DeSantis won narrowly and arguably via voter suppression. Les Thackston and Patrick Henry can tell you about the 2–3 hour lines at majority-Democratic precincts in Daytona Beach in the 2018 election, which were not seen previously in these precincts nor in majority-Republican precincts. Sadly, DeSantis’s victory has a cascading effect for both the 2020 and 2022 elections advantaging Republicans, as ballot order may be responsible for as much as a 1% advantage to those listed first, and this could even swing the Presidential election for Trump.

Richard Thripp, Ph.D.
Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress (FL-06)
Adjunct Faculty, University of Central Florida

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