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Florida’s New Poll Tax Will Cost the State $365 Million a Year

| July 10, 2019

Anti-poll tax demonstrators confront police in London, 1990. A measure in Florida has been likened to a new poll tax. (Shutterstock)

Anti-poll tax demonstrators confront police in London, 1990. A measure in Florida has been likened to a new poll tax. (Shutterstock)

By Robert P. Alvarez

The poll tax Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just signed into law may cost his state $365 million a year — indefinitely. 

DeSantis and the GOP-led Florida legislature recently made quick work of dismantling Amendment 4, a voter-approved ballot initiative that would’ve restored the right to vote to Floridians with felony convictions who’d completed their sentences (except those convicted of sex offenses or murder).

Sixty-five percent of voters approved the initiative.

DeSantis’ new bill, SB 7066, subverts Amendment 4 by stipulating that people with felony records pay “all fines and fees” associated with their sentence prior to the restoration of their voting rights. This deliberately undercuts the outcome voters intended to secure when they passed the initiative with a supermajority.

Critics have charged that requiring payment to vote amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax. But alongside questions of the legality and morality of disenfranchising voters, there’s also a surprisingly large economic price tag to this dubiously constitutional scheme.

The Poor People’s Moral Budget, a report by the Institute for Policy Studies, cites new research by the Washington Economics Group (WEG) illustrating the cost of felony disenfranchisement in Florida. 

As unbelievable as it sounds, they found that it costs Florida $365 million each year to deny civil and voting rights to returned citizens — money that could’ve been saved by fully implementing Amendment 4 as approved by voters. 

How? For one thing, by reducing recidivism, which lowers the incarcerated population over time. This saves the state about $20,000 annually, per inmate, in correctional supervision costs alone. 

In fact, WEG’s research found restoring the voting rights of returned citizens in Florida could reduce their recidivism rate by nearly 13 percent — good for most of the of savings taxpayers would see on court operating costs, correctional supervision, and capital expenditures for correctional facilities.

States with permanent felony disenfranchisement experience significantly higher recidivism rates than states with more lenient re-enfranchisement processes. As it turns out, allowing returned citizens to participate fully in society and in democracy reduces their likelihood of reoffending — and saves money.

An additional major boon for Florida would have been the increased earning power of returned citizens. This is attributable to two factors: decreased recidivism leading to a significant influx of returned citizens into Florida’s workforce, and the relationship between voting and income.

The first factor is straightforward — less recidivism over time equals more workers because fewer people are being sent back to prison.

Regarding the second factor, WEG argues that since voters tend to have higher incomes than non-voters, restoring the right to vote could increase the incomes of returned citizens. And with higher incomes, returned citizens “would be able to afford living in less-disadvantaged areas, which is associated with better employment outcomes after release, and less recidivism.”

Basically, being free allows you to get a job. Employment means you’ll have a higher income. And voter participation and family income show a clear positive association.

The economic impacts from both the reduced administrative costs and increased income of returned citizens, says WEG, would filter throughout Florida’s economy, yielding $365 million in total benefits.

That money could’ve created nearly 3,800 well-paying jobs, or been put to work serving the 51 percent of Floridians who are poor or low-income, the state’s 404,000 veterans earning under $35,000 a year, or the nearly 2.5 million Floridians without health insurance.

But that was before DeSantis and Florida Republicans wrung the people’s will out of the initiative, throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs, all to keep people from voting.

Moving funds away from the criminal justice system isn’t just the morally imperative thing to do. It’s also the fiscally responsible thing to do — something Republicans used to claim they cared about.

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8 Responses for “Florida’s New Poll Tax Will Cost the State $365 Million a Year”

  1. snapperhead says:

    No. 4 Constitutional Amendment Article VI, Section 4. Voting Restoration Amendment This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

    “This deliberately undercuts the outcome voters intended to secure when they passed the initiative with a supermajority.”

    My research from the Snapperhead Institute of Conducting Studies That Support My Agenda disagrees with Mr Alvarez’ assessment. As a voter in support of this I didn’t see any language that exempts felons from paying fines and fees.

  2. Mark says:

    Fines and fees are part of the court’s sentence, not a poll tax.

  3. Jim says:

    Totally nonsense story.. The basis of this article is that if a felon is not allowed to vote then they are more likely to commit a crime and go back to jail.. No wonder the media has a credibility problem

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Jim, I think that rather than go with your “totally nonsense” claim that “the media has a credibility problem,” I’ll go with a peer-reviewed scholarly study that actually shows “that states which permanently disenfranchise ex-felons experience significantly higher repeat offense rates than states that do not.” Or with yet another, earlier peer-reviewed study (albeit from a smaller sample), that found a re-arrest rate of 27 percent among non-voters and 12 percent among voters. Or with this report, based on Florida Parole Commission numbers, much larger numbers than the previous study cited here, that showed recidivism rates for those who regained the right to vote in Florida at 11 percent, compared to 33 percent for those who did not.

      Sure, evidence is difficult to swallow, and who has time for actual studies, let alone scholarly ones, even though it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to Google them and about as much time to scroll to the relevant conclusions. So much easier to just go with “totally nonsense” in a 30-second burp at the bottom of a column. But before you expose your glass-house claims at the expense of our columnists or this site, about credibility of all things, you might want to check your own. It spares our readers the clutter. It saves you embarrassment. It saves me time. This goes for the other screamers in this thread.

  4. Truth Finder says:

    Know what your reading:

    FlaglerLive, why are you so afraid of letting your readers know the truth about what you publish?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Truth Finder (sic.), who’s afraid of letting readers know? All you did was link to a site that shows IPS, whose columns we love to run, is “left wing.” Not sure that makes you Carl Bernstein (also left wing), though you seem to have affinities with Alex Jones (wingnut).

  5. Alonzo Hudson says:

    All young men AND MEN of color, please stay out of trouble. Do not give the government a reason to take your voting rights away. They do not want people of color to vote. Do not give them a reason to keep you from the voting booth. Please stay out of trouble.

  6. Sherry says:

    Pierre Tristam (the owner, journalist and publisher of Flaglerlive) is an open minded publisher of FACT based articles.

    In my opinion, Flaglerlive is a breath of fresh air in a community where many citizens have glued themselves to FOX (not news) for many years, and have (hopefully unknowingly) been manipulated into a state of fear, and therefore hate and racism.

    While I personally think that ALL reparations should be made before voting rights are restored. . . it is reasonable to fully understand and accept the FACTS of studies. Denying FACTS, even “scientific” ones like climate change, in favor of blindly following a cult of lies and corruption, decays our moral codes of ethics and evolution of our society in general.

    Thank you again and again Pierre for your righteous courage to speak truth and facts in the face of rampant ignorance and bias. .

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