Florida can stop ex-felons from voting if fines go unpaid, Supreme Court decides

Florida

The Supreme Court building is photographed early Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (WFLA) — In a blow to the voting rights of former felons in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Thursday that ex-felons will not be able to vote if they still owe fines or court fees.

In November 2018, more than 4 million Florida voters approved an effort to allow ex-felons to vote by amending the state’s constitution, as long as those felons were not convicted of sexual offenses or murder and had completed parole or probation.

Amendment 4 would allow an additional 1.4 million votes in the upcoming election. It went into effect in January 2019.

Not long after, the Republican-led state legislature, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, enacted a bill to include financial obligations fines, fees and restitution to the amendment – something not included in the version Florida voters received in 2018.

In May 2020, a U.S. district judge ruled that the verbiage added to the amendment amounted to an unconstitutional voting tax.

Around 85,000 ex-felons have registered to vote since since January of 2019.

Three justices dissented to Thursday’s decision, writing that the order “prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.”

In a statement made after the decision, leaders of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition expressed their dissapointment.

“At the heart of this debate are hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, and all parts of the state, people who a federal judge said should vote in this election, but that our own government is now blocking,” Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said in a statement. “We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision but not deterred. We know a more vibrant democracy is a stronger democracy, and that the voices of the people will be heard.”

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