Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill setting conditions on a voter-approved constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions, reports the Wall Street Journal. The state will not automatically restore rights to felons who completed their sentences but have outstanding fines, fees or restitution. Instead, it requires one of three remedies: payment of the financial obligation in full; a court’s dismissal of the debt; or conversion of the debt to community service, and completion of those hours.
In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment returning voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million felons. Critics say the new law undermines the measure, erecting hurdles for those with unpaid fines. Supporters say the bill was needed to clarify imprecisions in the amendment’s language. After DeSantis signed the measure, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Brennan Center for Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court in Gainesville to challenge it. The November amendment, which passed with nearly 65 percent support, restored voting rights to people who have completed their prison terms as well as parole or probation, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual assault. It marked the largest expansion of voting rights in the U.S. since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971. In a state where key races often are decided by slender margins, its impact could be significant.