Wording Matters

* While deflatingly disappointing, it was hardly shocking when the Florida Supreme Court sided with Republican lawmakers on the Amendment 4 decision. The justices ruled that former felons must pay back all court-ordered fees, fines and restitution before registering to vote. This wasn’t just a matter of a Ron De Santis-friendly Court having morphed into a more conservative body.  

This was non-shocking because of the original wording, which stipulated that most non-violent former felons would have their right to vote restored if they had completed “all terms of sentence.” We know what the sentiment and motivation were–and why 65 percent of Florida voters approved it in 2018–but this literal wording betrayed that. The word “ALL” doesn’t even require legal partisans, for whom self-serving language is the first arrow out of the quiver, to do any parsing or nuancing. It’s “all,” alas, there, and a de facto poll tax results. We know that words matter; too bad that a critically important amendment didn’t accurately reflect that.

Worse yet–and not unlike the ultimate rationale for cracking down on texting drivers–is that regardless of politics, this is bad for everybody. Former felons who are not re-integrated into society have huge downsides when it comes to recidivism. That impacts, well, ALL of us. 

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