Florida cannot, for now, bar felons who served their time from registering to vote simply because they have failed to pay all fines and fees stemming from their cases, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tallahassee federal judge’s preliminary injunction that a state law implementing Amendment 4 amounted to an unfair poll tax that would disenfranchise many of the released felons.“We disagree with the ruling,” said Helen Ferre, chief spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. She said the state would immediately ask the entire 11th Circuit to reconsider.
The case is one of several now before judges amid high-stakes legal skirmishes over Florida elections, which have drawn national scrutiny because of the state’s perennial status as a political battleground and the razor-thin margins deciding some high-profile contests. Amendment 4 was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 to allow most felons who served their time to regain the right to vote. But soon after, the Republican-led Legislature passed a law stipulating that they must first pay any fines and fees before their sentences could be deemed complete under the law. Voting rights groups representing 17 plaintiffs sued in federal court, seeking to overturn the law. In its ruling Wednesday, the circuit court said the financial requirement “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can — and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.”