Florida will no longer allow formerly convicted felons the right to vote until they pay off any debt that is related to their imprisonment.
Voting rights will not be restored to felons in Florida until they pay off all the fines and fees related to their sentences, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The court made the decision that “all terms of sentence” includes the time the person served and supervision, in addition to any fines or other terms that are associated with the person’s imprisonment.
“We conclude that ‘all terms of sentence’ plainly encompasses not only durational terms but also obligations and therefore includes all [legal, financial obligations (LFOs)] imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt. As explained next, we reject as overly technical the arguments advanced by certain Non-State Parties that Amendment 4 encompasses only some LFOs,” the court said.
The move comes after a brutal battle between voting rights advocacy groups and the state’s government. Initially, an amendment to Florida’s constitution allowed its 1.4 million convicted felons the right to vote after they’ve been released. Civil rights groups praised the amendment, mentioning that the ban disproportionally affected people of color. However, republican governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill in June requiring former convicts to pay off their debts, including court fees and fines before they can have their right to vote back.
The bill has sparked outrage from several advocacy and social groups, including the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, which filed a lawsuit against the state government after the bill was signed, The Hill reports. The Florida Supreme Court blocked the plaintiff’s argument that ex-felons’ fines and fees should not be considered, saying they “isolate and parse the word ‘sentence’ to carve out” the felons’ legal requirements to pay back sentence-related fines. DeSantis believes the new ruling will properly enforce the amendment.
“I am pleased that @ FLCourts confirms that Amendment 4 requires fines, fees & restitution be paid to victims before their voting rights may be restored. Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and I am obligated to faithfully implement Amendment 4 as it is defined,” he tweeted. On the opposing side, several civil rights groups have promised to continue the fight for inmates’ voting rights. “The Florida Supreme Court’s decision is disappointing and cuts the 1.4 million people who voters expressly intended to re-enfranchise almost in half,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
The statement continued, “By holding Floridians’ right to vote hostage, the Florida Supreme Court is permitting the unconstitutional modern-day poll tax and redefining an amendment nearly 65 percent of Florida voters approved of in 2018. The movement that began to pass Amendment 4 was never going to go away after last year’s election,” the group continued, “but it is needed now more than ever to ensure everyone who is eligible to vote can register, and does so.”