Leading Off

• Florida: After Floridians overwhelmingly voted to approve a 2018 constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to roughly 1.4 million citizens who had fully completed their felony sentences, Republicans are advancing a bill that would gut that reform and could keep the vast majority of those citizens disenfranchised by imposing a measure straight out of the Jim Crow playbook: poll taxes. Their measure, which has already passed out of a state House committee, would require the repayment of all court-related restitution, fines, and fees before those who've served their time can regain the right to vote.

Florida's felony disenfranchisement system itself is a remnant of Jim Crow—it was given its modern form shortly after the Civil War with the explicit purpose of keeping the vote from black voters in a state that was nearly half black at the time. Before 2018's ballot initiative passed, the Sentencing Project estimated that one in 10 Floridians were disenfranchised, including one in five black voters—five times the rate of those who aren't black.

Imposing a requirement to pay off all court-related costs is especially draconian because of the predatory nature by which Florida courts and law enforcement derive funding from harsh fines imposed on criminal defendants, above and beyond restitution to crime victims. As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern relays, Florida imposed $1 billion in felony fines between 2013 and 2018, but only 19 percent of that sum was paid. The Florida County Clerks and Comptrollers association even determined that 83 percent of court fines had "minimal collections expectations."

By demanding that citizens repay all court fines and fees, Republicans could effectively roll back the 2018 ballot initiative and keep more than a million people permanently disenfranchised—roughly four-fifths of all those who were supposed to regain their rights—all because they're too poor to pay court costs.

Voting rights advocates such as the ACLU, which played a major role in supporting the 2018 measure, have condemned the GOP's efforts, and a lawsuit is all but guaranteed. However, after Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly won last year's election for governor—in part thanks to felony disenfranchisement—Republicans now hold a six-to-one majority on Florida's Supreme Court, putting the odds of such a lawsuit's success in doubt. By the same token, the U.S. Supreme Court's dismal record on voting rights under Chief Justice John Roberts isn't encouraging for the prospects of a federal lawsuit.

Of course, gutting the 2018 amendment isn't enough for Florida Republicans, who have now introduced a state constitutional amendment to restrict the initiative process itself. This proposal would require those gathering signatures for ballot measure petitions to be Florida residents and register with the secretary of state, even though many courts in other states have ruled that similar residency requirements are unconstitutional. It would also ban campaigns from paying petition-gatherers per signature and further require a disclosure of a campaign's proportion of out-of-state funding to appear on the ballot itself.

Taken together, these provisions are designed to eviscerate the ability of national organizations such as the ACLU to support pro-democracy initiatives. Even when campaigns can count on in-state funding and in-state residents to gather petitions, banning payment per signature could seriously hinder the ability of campaigns to collect petitions by eliminating the financial incentive for gatherers to obtain as many signatures as quickly as they can. The alternative would be paying them by the hour, regardless of how many they collect, or relying on volunteers.

Fortunately, these restrictions themselves would have to pass at the ballot box and win at least 60 percent of the vote to amend Florida's constitution. However, these latest developments demonstrate how Florida Republicans simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of a voter-approved effort to end one of Florida's most shameful vestiges of Jim Crow, all because disenfranchisement likely benefits them at the ballot box. And given how close Florida elections so often are, the electoral consequences are very real.

The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.