Desantis asks high court to rule on felon voting
Tallahassee, Fl (treasurecoast.com)-Florida’s governor is asking the state’s high court to rule on whether convicted felons must pay all fines and fees before getting their voting rights restored in a move that competes with ongoing litigation in federal court on that same question.
Last year, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, restoring voting rights for felons other than convicted murderers and sex offenders.
In response, the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature passed a bill this spring that requires felons to pay all fines and fees before their voting rights are restored. Amendment 4 supporters are challenging the new law in federal court.
DeSantis sent a letter to the Florida Supreme Court Friday seeking an advisory opinion on whether recently enacted SB 7066, which requires convicted felons to pay off their legal fees, restitution and fines before they get back their voting rights, subverts Amendment 4, the voter-approved law that restored ex-felons’ voting rights.
“It is ultimately my responsibility, through the Department of State, to ‘protect the integrity of the electoral process’ by maintaining accurate and current voter registration records, including ensuring only eligible voters remain on the statewide voter registration system,” DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer, wrote in his to the Supreme Court on Friday.
The letter comes one week after the ACLU and other groups filed a motion for a preliminary injunction blocking the bill, which went into effect July 1, until a court settles the question of whether SB 7066 is legal.
The law allows judges to modify financial obligations other than restitution that were part of sentences. The law also allows judges to convert financial obligations to community service hours. Under that scenario, financial obligations are considered paid in full once community service is complete.
Voting- and civil-rights groups quickly challenged the law in federal court. They allege that hinging the right to vote on finances amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax” and is a vestige of Jim Crow-era policies aimed at preventing black voters from participating in elections.