When voters passed the referendum, known as Amendment 4, civil rights groups celebrated what was billed as a potentially game-changing expansion of the electorate in the nation’s biggest battleground state. White people like Mr. Gruver represent a majority of the state’s former felons. But Black residents are disproportionately represented: More than one in five potential Black voters in Florida were barred from casting a ballot.
Nearly two years later, most former felons remain shut out of the ballot box over their inability to pay legal financial obligations. Of the about one million former felons in Florida — a conservative estimate — at least three-quarters owe court debt. Between 70 and 80 percent are indigent and unable to pay.
And even those who can pay face a Catch-22: Because there is no central database of court fines and fees, it is difficult or impossible to establish how much anyone owes. As of May, the state had failed to process any of the more than 85,000 voting registration applications submitted by former felons since Amendment 4 passed in late 2018.
“It has been a very long slog to change public opinion on the re-enfranchisement of felons, and it took millions of dollars and a lot of effort to get that initiative passed,” said Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University law professor. “The idea that felons would then have to pay money in order to vote after being enfranchised is depressing.”