Civil Rights

Florida ex-felons face legal battle over voting rights

  • Print.

Prisoner voting rights

Image from Shutterstock.

Civil rights activists are challenging a new law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday that formerly incarcerated people who have completed their prison sentences and probation have to pay outstanding court fines or fees before their right to vote is restored.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, citing violations of the First, 14th and 15th Amendments and the constitutional prohibition on poll taxes, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The Tallahassee Democrat and NPR also have coverage.

The activists, who are joined by 10 ex-felons, also allege in the complaint that the law was “motivated, at least in part, by a racially discriminatory purpose,” since people with felony convictions in Florida are disproportionately black.

Daniel Tilley, the legal director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement provided to the Orlando Sentinel that “Floridians took it upon themselves to rid Florida of its Jim Crow past after state lawmakers refused to do anything about the state’s broken enfranchisement system for decades. Now, state lawmakers have chosen to return to Florida’s Jim Crow past by undermining Amendment 4 … It’s wrong, and it’s unconstitutional,” he added.

Amendment 4, approved by 64.5% of Florida voters in November, restored voting rights to ex-felons, other than murderers and sex offenders, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Officials estimated that it could allow nearly 1.4 million residents in the state to vote again. Prior to its passing, those with a felon could not have their voting rights restored until they petitioned the governor and state cabinet, which would meet as the clemency board. It was a difficult process with years of backlog.

In a letter sent to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, DeSantis says the new law “confirms that the amendment does not apply to a felon who has failed to complete all the terms of his sentence.”

See also:

ABA Journal: “In states where inmates can vote, few exercise their right to cast ballots”

ABA Journal: “Critics say Florida legislation would impose poll tax on felons who won right to vote”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.