When Amendment 4 passed in Florida in 2018, ex-cons statewide who completed all terms of their sentences regained their right to vote. This law advanced the rights of former criminals in landmark ways, restoring rights to more than 430,000 citizens.
This watershed moment was undercut by Republican lawmakers in 2019 when Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that clarified “all terms of sentence” to include outstanding fines, fees and restitution. Widely condemned as “pay to vote” legislation by civil rights groups, citizens are taking legal action to fight against the bill. A federal judge seems to agree.
The legal battleground for the right to vote
The 24th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits federal and state governments from implementing a “poll tax” on the right to vote. Historically, lawmakers passed these laws to limit the voting rights of people of color and low-income individuals; the Republican bill echoes these past offenses.
Soon after Gov. DeSantis signed the bill in the law, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed several legal challenges to combat the changes, including a class-action lawsuit. A federal judge in May 2020 bolstered these suits by ruling against the bill and calling it “unconstitutional.”
Florida was one of 11 states that imposed voting restrictions on felons after the completion of their sentence. When 64% of Floridians voted to pass Amendment 4 via ballot initiative, civil rights groups celebrated the cultural shift. Paul Smith, vice president of the CLC, called Amendment 4 “a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands of voters” and “a watershed moment in election law.”
The fight for rights continues
Gov. DeSantis vowed to appeal the ruling, leaving it to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Previously, the appellate court upheld U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s temporary injunction striking down the bill.
Floridians with questions about their rights under Amendment 4 can find answers with a local attorney familiar with criminal defense.