Two Jacksonville women are part of a federal lawsuit challenging a new state law that requires felons to first repay all financial penalties - such as court fees and restitution - before their right to vote is restored.
Rosemary McCoy and Sheila Singleton are the plaintiffs in the suit filed Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center to strike down Senate Bill 7066’s new restrictions, which took effect this week.
“The State of Florida has a very long and storied history of denying poor people, racial minorities, and women, the right to vote,” claims the 74-page complaint, which names Gov. Ron DeSantis, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, and Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan as the defendants. The suit goes on to say the “Plaintiffs fit all three of those [characteristics].”
Singleton and McCoy, both African American women, lost their voting rights after being convicted of felony offenses in April 2011 and July 2015, respectively. Singleton served six months in jail and completed her three years of probation in July 2014. McCoy had completed her 24 months of incarceration and 18 months of probation by September 2017.
Their voting rights were restored last year after more than 64% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow anyone sentenced for a felony offense the automatic right to vote once they complete their sentence. Exceptions were made for those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
According to the suit, Singleton and McCoy, who voted in Jacksonville’s county-wide elections this spring, are now at risk of being removed from the voter rolls if they don’t pay all the financial penalties associated with their crime.
“I served in the United States Navy and I was willing to die for this country, only to receive this. My country turned their backs on me. They put duct tape against my month, after I was willing to serve, I was willing to die. And now my mouth is taped,” said McCoy during a media briefing Tuesday. “I don’t even have a voice.”
Because of the new law, McCoy would need to pay $7,531.84 in victim restitution, plus interest that continues to accrue, before she can register to vote, according the suit. McCoy said she cannot afford to repay the debt, especially because it’s been difficult to find employment with a criminal conviction.
“I lost all my money, I lost everything,” she said. “I’m not going to let them take my right to vote.”
And she’s not alone, said SPLC Deputy Legal Director of Voting Rights Nancy Abudu.
“We are challenging the law not only because it redefines the language in amendment four, but it also significantly shrinks the number of people who would’ve otherwise been eligible to vote under amendment four,” she said.
Abudu said the claims they’re raising include an equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because “Senate Bill 7066 is a form of wealth base discrimination.” She said the law also creates an “unconstitutional poll tax,” a practice of charging voting fees that has historically been used to disenfranchise African Americans’ voting rights.
About 2,000 formerly incarcerated Floridians registered to vote between January and March of 2019, 44% of whom were African American, according to the suit.
Several other groups, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters have filed similar lawsuits.