On Wednesday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a Florida law that limits the right to vote for ex-felons.
A judge argued that making former inmates wait to register to vote until they’ve paid off all restitution, fines and court fees was unconstitutional.
Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to ex-felons, passed by nearly two-thirds of Florida voters in 2018. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis later signed a bill stating that financial obligations had to be met first before ex-felons could enter the voting arena.
The issue has been in a contentious debate ever since and the governor's office has already stated that it plans to appeal the most recent decision by federal judges.
Marissa Alexander, a former felon, says the state is putting too much energy into this issue for too long and should shift their focus elsewhere.
"Education, health care, the crime that we have, the criminal justice reform, teacher’s pay, people's ability to just be able to make it and live in terms of wage increase," said Alexander. "I mean we have ten times of other things we could really be focusing our efforts on in the legislative body and in his administration than taking this another step further."
In 2012, Alexander fired a warning shot at her abusive ex during a fight. She said he threatened to kill her. She was arrested shortly afterward and her subsequent 20-year sentence for firing that shot caused national outrage.
Eventually, her case was overturned, but like millions of other felons across the state, she knew what it was like to have no voting privilege. She says the restriction on ex-felons is "voter suppression" and discriminates against the poor.
"You know, I always like to say, if we start calling everyone out there wouldn’t be anyone left standing," Alexander said. "Some of us have had second, third, fourth chances, some of that by birthright, some of it by money. I say it happened, they get out, they get it together, so why not."
Alexander says she doesn’t see herself as an ex-felon. She doesn't like that term, either. She prefers "formerly incarcerated". Today she sees herself as an advocate and has supported the push to restore felon voting rights ever since she was released from prison.
"If you’re going to ask someone to come out and work and contribute, then they should absolutely have a right to determine what happens to the money they contribute in taxes, to their environment and the communities around them."
She says it can take decades for some people to pay back all of their fines, at a time when they’re trying to get back on their feet.
"I mean what is the actual physical, psychological, emotional harm for someone who is just saying, 'I'm going to vote in this way,'" Alexander said.
She says she also supports the right to vote behind bars.
"I have children, I have family in the community still, so just because I’m sitting behind a wall incarcerated doesn’t mean that the things that take place and happen to them I don’t care about," Alexander said.
She says money shouldn’t be such major a factor in the justice system when determining the fate of inmates. That’s why she is also an advocate for doing away with cash bail. She believes that also discriminates against the poor.
"One of the most precious things you can lose, outside of your life, is your freedom," Alexander said.