TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An estimated 775,000 felons who can’t afford to pay fines, fees and restitution tied to their sentence will likely not be able to vote in November.
A federal appeals court ruled the state is allowed to require the payment for voting rights restoration and time is running out if plaintiffs hope to reverse the ruling.
Reversing a lower court decision, the appeals court argued Florida had the right to require felons to complete all terms of their sentence, including fines, fees and restitution in order to vote.
“If a state may decide that those who commit serious crimes are presumptively unfit for the franchise, it may also conclude that those who have completed their sentences are the best candidates for reenfranchisement,” wrote U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice William Pryor in the ruling.
The ruling all but guarantees felons who have outstanding legal financial obligations will not be able to vote in November.
An appeal to the US Supreme Court would have to be ruled on before the October 5 registration deadline.
“It’s deeply disappointing and quite frankly, appalling. Because what they essentially said is, it’s okay to make people pay to vote,” said Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “It’s really a devastating decision for our returning citizens.”
“This is going to have serious ramifications when we talk about the growing class divide,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Attorney Nancy Abudu, who is representing one of the 17 plaintiffs named in the case.
Abudu believes the ruling will have significant consequences for the November election.
“Whatever the outcome of our election, we’ll know that a significant portion of Florida’s electorate was excluded,” said Abudu.
At the time of the appellate hearing, 85,000 felons had already registered to vote.
Under the ruling, the state can potentially remove any of those voters from the roles, if they have not paid all of their legal financial obligations.
“As far as we can determine, unless those individuals hear anything from the state and as long as they feel confident about their eligibility, they should not face any obstacles,” said Abudu.
Groups involved in the suit told us they’re still determining how to move forward, but hope to make a decision sometime in the next week.
The Governor’s communications director Fred Piccolo provided News4Jax a statement regarding the ruling:
“The 11th Circuit decision affirmed what we all - proponents and opponents of Amendment 4 - agreed on during initial oral arguments in front of the Florida Supreme Court. Namely that all terms of a sentence means all terms. There are multiple avenues to restore rights, pay off debts, and seek financial forgiveness from ones victims. Second chances and the rule of law are not mutually exclusive.”
Voting group worried registration reminders coming too late
Florida is set to mail 2 million postcards reminding Floridians who are not registered to vote, but are eligible, to get on the voting rolls.
The League of Women Voters worries the move is too little too late.
The state originally said the postcards would go out in mid-summer, but with the registration deadline rapidly approaching, the League fears the reminders won’t arrive in time.
“And also because the postal service is slow, we hope that they hit the mailboxes by tomorrow, but we encourage Floridians who are not registered who receive these postcards or who don’t receive them if you’re not registered, to register to vote. You don’t have much time left. October the 5th is right around the corner,” said Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
You can register to vote online by going to the Florida Division of Election’s website or in person at your local supervisor of elections office.