TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – The first hearing in a federal case challenging the law that requires felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before being eligible to vote has been set for October.
The decision that comes out of that hearing could have a major impact on who is eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election.
1.4 million felons were initially expected to have their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, but those hopes were diminished when the legislature passed the law tying financial obligations to restoration.
Lawsuits were filed almost immediately.
“Let’s just hope all of that is expedited so people have some clear direction before the 2020 election,” said clemency attorney Reggie Garcia.
A federal judge will consider two key issues in the case in a hearing set for October 7.
First, if the financial requirements should be temporarily blocked while the case makes its way through the courts as requested by the plaintiffs.
Second, possibly dismissing the case altogether, which was requested by the governor and secretary of state, who have argued the issue should be decided by the state supreme court.
Despite roughly 400,000 felons voting rights hanging in the balance of the case, political analysts are split on whether a decision would impact the 2020 election.
“It would certainly have an impact,” said GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich.
Stipanovich said Florida’s tight elections can be easily swung one way or another.
“Statewide elections whether for Governor or for President are decided by tens of thousands of votes not hundreds of thousands of votes,” Stipanovich said.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale said he believes partisan concerns are overblown.
“When you look at the demographics of people who fall into this universe of people they’re as diverse ideologically, racially, gender-wise as Florida is,” said Schale. “So I think some of the politics of who this benefits has been overplayed. I’m not sure that there’s a real 2020 impact politically.”
Depending on the outcome of October’s hearing an official trial could come as early as Spring of 2020.
Whichever side loses will likely appeal, pushing a final resolution even closer to the general election.
In the meantime, the governor has asked the Florida Supreme Court to determine if fines, fees and restitution are required by the amendment approved by 64 percent of voters.