Florida Republicans are trying to pass a bill that would require former felons to pay fees before having their voting rights restored.

There is a story behind all this, and all of us should be aware of what it is.

It is a basic law of American justice that once someone has paid their debt to society then the payment is considered rendered in full. Our prison system should seek to rehabilitate, not simply punish. It should seek to aid people in restoring their lives, that at the end if a period of incarceration they can become dignified, productive members of society.      

The right to vote is a core element of citizen engagement and responsibility. As soon as someone’s period of incarceration is ended, the right to vote should be restored immediately. We should do whatever we can to welcome them back into free society.        

There is a reason why all this is happening, of course. We should not be naïve, we should not be distracted, and we should not be blind. Those seeking to pass such punitive laws are seeking to insure the political disengagement of some of the most disadvantaged members of our society, and  they know where they are - because in many cases they paved the way for them to be there. The majority of our prison population represent people who, due to issues of race and poverty and violence, emerged from a sea of societal dysfunction.      

The right to vote should be a sacred right of every American citizen - including those who have made mistakes, been held accountable, have paid their debt to society, and are ready to begin again. This is not just about them; it is about all of us, and whether we believe forgiveness and redemption have a place in the life of our nation.