Federal Appeals Court Rules Florida Felons DO NOT Have To Provide Proof Court Fees Paid In Order To Vote; Republican Governor To Appeal

Photo Credit: [LAWRENCE MOWER, Tampa Bay Times (2019)]

More than a year after Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to approve Amendment 4, which restored the voting rights of most ex-felons in the state, a 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Appeals Court based in Atlanta has ruled that felons do not have to provide proof that they have paid court-imposed fines and fees in order to cast a ballot.

Unfortunately, the ruling applies only to the 17 ex-felons who brought litigation before the Appeals Court suing to overturn laws enacted by the State’s Republican governor, Ron Desantis, and the Republican-controlled legislature that amended Amendment 4 to require that felons pay ALL fees and fines imposed by courts in order to be able to vote.

Opponents of those Republican actions said the moves amounted to imposing a Jim Crow-era “poll tax”on ex-felons; the 3 appeals judges agreed, writing that the Republican-backed legislation allows wealthy felons the right to vote while denying that right to those who can’t afford to repay fines and fees that sometimes amount to thousands of dollars which, they said, is unconstitutional.

“Here, these plaintiffs are punished more harshly than those who committed precisely the same crime — by having their right to vote taken from them likely for their entire lives,” the judges wrote. “And this punishment is linked not to their culpability, but rather to the exogenous fact of their wealth.”

Across the nation, the push to restore the voting rights of felons has gained steam over the last several years, although Florida has long remained one of only 3 states that permanently blocks voting rights for felons; however, the other two states, Kentucky and Iowa, recently amended laws or enacted executive action that allows some felons to cast ballots, leaving Florida the only state out of 50 that disenfranchises up to 1.6 million of its own citizens.

Its estimated that almost 30% of African-Americans in Florida are barred from voting due to a prior felony conviction.

But Florida Republicans have long claimed that banning felons from voting has no racial impetus.

On the other hand, many argue the state’s Republicans intentionally redrafted Amendment 4 in order to stifle the votes of Black residents.

Nevertheless, a representative for Desantis has promised to appeal the Court’s decision.

Florida is a battleground state in national elections. Few presidents have won the White House without winning Florida; Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Florida by barely 1% in 2016, and Desantis barely squeaked past Democrat Andrew Gillum by even less than that in Florida’s 2018 governor’s race.

The 2020 race is expected to be just as close, if not closer.

Some have criticized former President Barack Obama for leaving office without advocating for the restoration of former felons’ voting rights, and for not seeking to make voting a federal right.

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