Jul 27, 2022 - Podcasts

Florida felons face prison time for voting

In 2018, Florida passed a historic ballot initiative to allow most felons in the state to vote. Now, 10 men with felony convictions are facing voter fraud charges, for voting before paying fines they did not know existed.

  • Plus: what’s riding on the semiconductor bill.
  • And: the Biden administration tries to address the threat of extreme heat.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Harding McGill, and Bianca Fortis, reporting fellow at ProPublica

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:

NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, July 27th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: former felons in Florida face jail time for voting. Plus, the Biden administration tries to address the threat of extreme heat.

But first: what’s riding on the semiconductor bill: that’s today’s one big thing.

NIALA: The Senate voted yesterday to move forward on a roughly $280 billion package to boost domestic production of semiconductors that are used in everything from the auto industry to the military. It's expected to pass the Senate this week, giving President Biden a much needed win. Margaret Harding-McGill covers tech policy for Axios and joins us now with the details. Hi, Margaret.


NIALA: Margaret, during the pandemic, there was a shortage of these industrial chips. I remember you coming on to talk about how much this impacted major supply chains. Can you remind us why these chips are such a crucial part of our economy?

MARGARET: Well, it turns out people really want things like smart dishwashers, cars with computers in them. Basically any appliance, electronic, everything runs on chips. And so if there's some kind of disruption in the chip supply chain that causes big problems across industries. And one of the things that this bill is meant to address is the fact that US companies don't make a lot of chips in the US anymore. In the nineties, 37% of chips were made in the US and that's dropped down to 12%. The idea here is we rely on a bunch of foreign countries to make our chips, and if something goes wrong in one of those countries, we feel it, and so what if we build the chips in America instead.

NIALA: And how would this bill encourage that?

MARGARET: A big chunk of the bill is 52 billion dollars for chip manufacturing, research and production in the US. And that includes 2 billion for legacy chip production. So these are those chips that are essential to like the auto industry. There's also tax credit of 25% for investments in semiconductor manufacturing and that's worth about S24 billion dollars. And what's, what's key about these incentives is that other countries are already offering them. And so this is the US’ way of trying to catch up with, uh, countries in Asia or in Europe, in terms of the incentives they're offering to companies to, to locate these facilities on their shores.

NIALA: And so the tech company Intel is one of the major producers of these chips. So is IBM. What have these companies said about whether or not they're waiting on this money to ramp up production here in the US?

MARGARET: So Intel has been very clear and increasingly more aggressive about its concerns about whether or not this funding is gonna make it. Um, they announced this 20 billion chip site in Ohio, but they have always said all along that the scope and size of the project is dependent on government funding. Earlier this month, the Intel CEO said that the company will delay its site if this funding is not passed.

NIALA: And what's the timing of this?

MARGARET: Well, that's the million dollar question. So the Senate is expected to pass the bill later this week, and then it will kick over to the House. The house had its own version of this bill, that was much more wide ranging, and so we have to see if they're willing to accept the Senate's version and just move it along before the August recess.

NIALA: Margaret Harding-McGill covers tech policy for Axios from Washington. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: You're welcome.

NIALA: In a moment: we’ve got some climate headlines for you, including bad news about the Greenland Ice Sheet, but good news about giant Sequoia trees.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. A few climate headlines to catch you up quick today:

After a major heat wave broke or tied thousands of temperature records this month, the Biden administration yesterday launched Heat.gov, an interagency website that coordinates information on extreme heat. The website includes tools like heat forecasts from NOAA and the CDC's Heat and Health Tracker.

The Greenland Ice Sheet saw a sharp spike in the rate and extent of melting last week, with 18 billion tons of water running into the North Atlantic in just three days. That’s enough to fill 2.4 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

And persistent drought and dry materials in California have contributed to the state’s biggest blaze of the year so far. The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park has burned 18,000 acres and destroyed 41 structures since Friday.

Finally, to update you on the fires near the thousand year old giant sequoias, not only did prescribed burns help save the trees, but the fires so close to the grove could lead to a new baby nursery of giant sequoias, as fire helps these trees to reproduce.

NIALA: In 2018, Florida passed a historic ballot initiative to allow most felons in the state to vote. Republicans soon after passed additional requirements that felons pay off any fines, fees, and restitutions related to their crimes before they could vote. And now, 10 men with felony convictions who were signed up to vote by government officials are facing voter fraud charges for not paying fines they likely were not even aware of. So far four have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to time in prison.

Bianca Fortis is a reporting fellow at ProPublica who has this story. Hi, Bianca. Welcome to Axios Today.

BIANCA FORTIS: Hi, thank you for having me.

NIALA: So Bianca, how did this happen?

BIANCA: In 2020, an official with the Alachua County Supervisors of Elections had gone into the local jail to do a series of voter registration drives. But there was some confusion about who was eligible to vote, because of two laws that had been recently passed. So in 2018, 64% of people voted to restore the right to vote for felons who did not have sex offenses or murder offenses. And then the following year, the state legislature passed a separate law that mandated that anyone with a felony conviction needed to have to pay off these fines and fees in order to vote. Over a million people would have been eligible to vote under Amendment 4, but of that number about 77% had these legal financial obligations that render them ineligible.

NIALA: And of these 10 men who were now facing these charges. Were they aware of this law?

BIANCA: I spoke to most of them and they all said that they had no idea and the information that they were given in the jail led them to believe that they would be allowed to vote.

NIALA: Bianca, if you do owe money because of a felony conviction, is it easy to figure that out if you're in Florida?

BIANCA: It can be very difficult. Each of Florida's 67 counties has its own database and the state also maintains its own databases. So if you do have felony convictions in multiple places and multiple jurisdictions, you would have to go to each of those places individually. There was a professor Traci Burch at Northwestern University who did a study where she tried to figure out the financial obligations owed by a random sample of 153 felons in Florida. And her team could only find consistent information for three of those people.

NIALA: And what are people saying about this? What are advocates for felon voting rights saying about this?

BIANCA: They're totally outraged. The issue of voting access has been highly partisan. And in this case, in particular, it was Republican lawmakers who had pushed this effort to require the fines and fees be paid off. And I do think that these 10 men who were not involved at all and had no idea what was going on, one of them is actually a Trump supporter, are essentially being used as collateral for a much bigger political fight that's happening in the state.

NIALA: Bianca Fortis is a reporting fellow at ProPublica. We'll put a link to her story in our show notes so you can read more. Thanks, Bianca.

BIANCA: Thank you.

NIALA: One final headline before we go: with lots of companies reporting their financial earnings this week, McDonalds had good news: strong sales despite inflation. The chain has more than survived the pandemic so far, with consumers continuing to buy even as McDonalds has raised prices.

But Walmart, a bellwether for the broader economy, continued to see its share prices drop yesterday after the giant retail chain said Monday it was cutting its profit forecasts because of inflation. Instead of a one percent annual loss in profit, it’s now forecasting a decline of up to 13 percent.

That’s all for today. I’ll be out for the next few days but you’ll be in the capable hands of Axios reporters Emily Peck and Erica Pandey.

I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and I’ll be back with you soon.

Go deeper