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Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:42 PM

What it's like fighting for the right to vote as an ex-felon

What it’s like fighting for the right to vote as an ex-felon
A conversation with the two Black women at the center of one of America’s most important felony disenfranchisement cases.
By Fabiola Cineas Sep 22, 2020, 8:30am EDT

After Florida voted overwhelmingly to let 1.5 million formerly incarcerated people regain the right to vote, Rosemary McCoy and Sheila Singleton, two Black women who had completed their sentences and probation for felony convictions, cast their ballots in 2019 for the first time in years.

Just months later, they lost that newfound power: In May 2019, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, enacted Senate Bill 7066. It required that formerly incarcerated people pay any restitution, fines, or court fees before they could register to vote and have their rights restored.

More than 85,000 released felons had already registered to vote. Now they faced a new roadblock. Backlash to the new ordinance was swift, with critics likening it to a modern-day Reconstruction-era poll tax. And in a state where election outcomes are often close, Floridians with prior felony convictions could be a key voting bloc.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a felony disenfranchisement suit on behalf of McCoy and Singleton, arguing that the law is particularly harmful to these women because of their race, gender, and economic status. According to the SPLC, “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.” After the bill was passed, McCoy learned that she owed about $7,500 in restitution; Singleton owed $12,000. Interest has been accruing.



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