The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Amendment 4 on Thursday siding with Republicans who are pushing for non-violent felons’ voting rights to be reinstated under the stipulation that in addition to completing their sentence, they must also repay court-ordered fees, fines and restitution before registering to vote.
According to a report from Tampa Bay Times, there has been controversy surrounding the completion of the “all terms of sentence” provision that GOP lawmakers, namely Gov. Ron DeSantis, are trying to enforce before felons can cast a ballot because it is implicative of poll tax. DeSantis, who was called out for his racist antics in 2018 during the Florida gubernatorial race against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, opposed Amendment 4 and as a result asked the “state’s conservative Supreme Court to weigh in on the definition of ‘all terms of sentence,’” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged DeSantis’ opinion, arguing that the expiration of “all terms” is when a person is no longer in prison or on probation.
Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, also spoke against the court’s opinion. Abudu, who has sued Florida on behalf of some felons who are unable to repay their financial debts, said in a statement, “By holding Floridians’ right to vote hostage, the Florida Supreme Court is permitting the unconstitutional modern-day poll tax in SB 7066, and redefining an amendment nearly 65 percent of Florida voters approved of in 2018.”
It has been noted that the provision is a “non-binding” court opinion that is not reflective of the Thursday ruling. Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting for the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement, “The decision today by the Florida Supreme Court changes nothing in the ongoing federal lawsuit. We will continue to fight to ensure that people with felony convictions are not denied the right to vote based on their inability to pay.”
Lang continued, “Disenfranchising people because of financial hardship violates the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Supreme Court’s decision does nothing to change that. We look forward to making the case to Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee when we see them in court on January 28.”
Amendment 4 was approved in November 2018 during Florida’s midterm elections, which was particularly crucial to the state because according to the Sentencing Project’s 2016 estimates, nearly 1.5 million Floridians were felons and could not vote. This accounted for 9.2 percent of the voting-age population in the state, according to Vox.
Additionally, the amendment will especially benefit Black people who are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in Florida. The Sentencing Project reported that in 2016 “17.9 percent of potential black voters in Florida” completed their prison sentences but were not able to vote due to their felony record.
Is it a coincidence that DeSantis, the Trump-enthusiast who claimed that Gillum would “monkey this up” if he won the race against him for governor, is trying to push for a provision that would further disenfranchise Black voters in Florida?