Court: Florida Felons Must Pay Fines to Vote

GOP-led legislature and governor backed restrictions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 11, 2020 3:59 PM CDT
Updated Sep 11, 2020 4:01 PM CDT
Court Makes It Harder for Florida Felons to Vote
Voters head to a polling station to cast ballots in Florida's primary election in Orlando in March.   (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Florida felons have to pay all fines, restitution, and legal fees to regain their right to vote, a federal appellate court ruled Friday in a case that could have broad implications for the November elections. Reversing a lower court judge's decision that gave Florida felons the right to vote regardless of outstanding legal obligations, the order from the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the position of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-led Legislature. Under Amendment 4, which voters passed in 2018, felons who have completed their sentences would have voting rights restored. But the legal dispute arose after lawmakers moved to define what it means to complete a sentence, the AP reports. The 11th Circuit voted 6-4, deciding that the Constitution's due process clause was not violated by the passage of the law implementing Amendment 4.

"States are constitutionally entitled to set legitimate voter qualifications through laws of general application and to require voters to comply with those laws through their own efforts," the majority opinion said. An official with the Campaign Legal Center, which works for voting rights for most felons, called the decision "deeply disappointing." The ruling could influence the election outcome in November. Florida is considered a must-win state in President Trump’s bid for reelection and is famed for its razor-thin statewide election results. Democrats had hopes of gaining support from thousands of former felons in Florida. (The movement to restore the vote had high-profile support.)

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