In Florida, hundreds of thousands of eligible voters may not be welcome at the polls this November: a ruling that determined it was unconstitutional to require felons to pay bail fines before they can register to vote was narrowly overturned by an appeals court earlier this month. The sudden decision left many potential voters scrambling, especially those from low-income backgrounds.
Known as a key battleground state that was pivotal to Trump’s win in 2016, Florida is expected to play a similarly decisive role in determining the results of the 2020 presidential contest. For 700,000 citizens who completed prison time and parole for felony convictions in the state, the recent court decision means their voice — and their vote — may not be counted.
With less than two months before the election and only a week until Florida’s bail payment deadline, the New York-based gallery Canada wants to help get presently ineligible voters to the polls. A fundraising art sale that the gallery is hosting on Instagram will benefit Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), an organization working to #FreeTheVote by helping people with convictions pay off their fees.
So far, 27 artists have contributed works to the initiative, with prices ranging from $100 to $8,000 to give as many people as possible a chance to participate. One could acquire a small ink on paper drawing by Anjuli Rathod for $350, for instance, or a larger, sculptural painting by Rachel Eulena Williams for $6,000.
Shabd Simon-Alexander, a community organizer and FRRC employee, says these contributions can make an immediate and important difference.
“The average fine we pay is $1,000, but some are as low as a couple hundred dollars,” she told Hyperallergic. “This is really something that people can do that has direct impact. When they donate, they’re helping pay off the fines and fees for a human being, an individual voter.”
In 2018, Florida residents overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative to pass Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to citizens convicted of certain felonies (excluding murder or sexual felony offenses) who have served their sentences. Previously, around 1.5 million people — 10 percent of Florida’s adult population — were prohibited from voting; around 20% of them were African-American.
But Simon-Alexander explains that the registration restrictions recently upheld by the appeals court discriminate against those with lower incomes who cannot afford to pay their fines.
“People on all sides of the fence agree about this, both Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “It’s just so clear that this is a constitutional right, and there’s no reason why someone who is poorer than another person shouldn’t be able to vote.”
Restoring someone’s right to vote, Simon-Alexander says, increases their sense of empowerment and agency over their lives. Enfranchised citizens also improve voter turnout by getting their friends, family members, and community to the polls as well, she added.
Canada’s fundraiser is one of many efforts to benefit FRRC launched over the last week. Simon-Alexander, who has a background in arts and design, said she was personally inspired to see so many individual artists and designers hosting their own raffles or sales to support the cause. She has counted approximately 200 artist-led initiatives, which she has been compiling on her Instagram stories; among them is a “solidarity print” offered by the photographer Paul Sepuya for any donation of $250 or more to FRRC.
Former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and musician John Legend have recently been in the news for their donations to the organization, but Simon-Alexander says they need wide-ranging support to make a dent in the payments.
“We can’t just leave this to the billionaires,” she said. “The fact that I’m able to donate to make a difference is so important.”
Canada’s fundraising sale runs through this Friday, September 25. Artworks are posted on its Instagram page; interested buyers must comment to reserve an artwork, then donate the total retail price directly to FRRC and provide a receipt once the gallery confirms the work’s availability. You can also donate to FRRC directly by clicking here.
As of this writing, artists participating in the Canada Gallery fundraiser include Barbara Hadden, Bradley Biancardi, Tess Bilhartz, Ben Berlow, Kelie Bowman, Katherine Bradford, Sarah Braman, Emily Davidson, Joe DeNardo, Austin Eddy, Ash Ferlito, Jack Henry, Annie Hemond Hotte, Sam Jablon, Xylor Jane, Aaron Johnson, Elisabeth Kley, Kimia Ferdowsi Kline , Stuart Lorimer, Michael Mahalchick, Joanna Malinowska, Eddie Martinez, Georgia Diva McGovern, RJ Messineo, Sam Moyer, Jenna Ransom, Anjuli Rathod, Joan Snyder, Jennifer Sullivan, Zuriel Waters, Anke Weyer, Rachel Eulena Williams.