By Trimmel Gomes/Florida News Connection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Voting and civil-rights groups held a rally outside a Tallahassee federal court Monday, calling for a temporary injunction to allow former felons to continue to register to vote.
In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing some 1.4 million felons to regain their voting privileges. But the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis requiring all fines, restitution, and other financial obligations to be settled in order for felons to complete their sentences.
Melba Pearson, deputy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said their data shows only 20% of those otherwise eligible to vote under the new law would meet that requirement; about 1 million people still would be left without a vote.
“It’s a wealth-based system,” Pearson said. “If you have outstanding fines that were converted to a civil lien because the court determined you are never going to have the ability to pay, now you’re in a situation where you’re no longer eligible to vote. And that’s just wrong.”
Attorneys for the state argue the added stipulations were reasonable interpretations of the language in Amendment 4, claiming the Legislature also included the ability to seek waivers to some financial obligations. The hearings are expected to run through Tuesday.
Pearson said voters across party lines voted in favor of voting-rights restoration, and she sees the added requirements as a way to further voter-suppression tactics – especially when Monday was the final day for Floridians to register to vote in the November 5 election.
“Again, we still need to go back to the elemental fact that over 5 million Floridians voted for this,” she said. “And anything contrary to that is subverting the will of the people, the will of the voters, and that’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.”
Gov. DeSantis tried to get the federal court to delay its hearing until the Florida Supreme Court could issue its advisory opinion. But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declined the request for the hearing to carry forward this week.