1. News
  2. /
  3. Florida Politics
  4. /
  5. The Buzz

Florida governor asks state’s highest court to rule on felon voting

In a rare move, Gov. Ron DeSantis asks the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the new law affecting felon voting rights and Amendment 4
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during the Florida Sheriffs Association Summer Conference dinner held at the Tampa Waterside Marriott in Tampa in July. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Aug. 9
Updated Aug. 9

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Republican governor on Friday asked 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.

Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court justices to issue an opinion on whether felons must pay all fines and fees before they are eligible to register to vote. Requests for an advisory opinion from a Florida governor to the state Supreme Court are rare — the last one was about six years ago from then-Gov. Rick Scott.

RELATED STORY: Felony convictions block too many from voting and jobs access, federal civil rights report finds

Last year, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, restoring voting rights for felons other than convicted murderers and sex offenders. Before its passage, Florida was among only three states that permanently disenfranchised felons unless their rights were restored by a clemency board.

In response to Amendment 4′s approval, 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 challenged the new law in federal court, saying it was an effort to keep hundreds of thousands of felons from registering to vote.

As many as 1.4 million felons could be eligible to vote under Amendment 4.

In his letter Friday, DeSantis asked the court for an opinion on whether the language in the amendment stating felons can get their voting rights restored upon “completion of all terms of sentence” includes fines and fees. The governor made clear his request is focused on the amendment, not the legislation that is being challenged in federal court.

“I, as governor of Florida, have the constitutional responsibility and duty to take care that the Constitution and laws of Florida are faithfully executed,” DeSantis wrote. “I will not infringe on the proper restoration of an individual’s right to vote under the Florida Constitution.”

RELATED STORY: ‘I paid my dues:’ Tampa voters blast Amendment 4 bill requiring fees and restitution

In their lawsuit, the Amendment 4 supporters said hundreds of thousands of Floridians would be denied the right to vote if they were unable to pay fines and fees. Earlier this month, they asked for a preliminary injunction that would stop the law from being enforced.

A study by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith estimated that less than 18 percent of Florida felons released from custody or supervision have paid off their fees and fines.

The new law “will wreak havoc on election administration, apply unequally to similarly situated voters, lead to the erroneous deprivation of the right to vote and undermine confidence in Florida elections,” the Amendment 4 supporters said in court papers filed last week.

RELATED STORY: How felons can register to vote in Florida under new Amendment 4 bill


  1. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  2. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Members of the Florida Supreme Court listen to a speech by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in the Florida House during a joint session of the Florida Legislature. Left to Right are: Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, and Robert J. Luck.  SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Fights over abortion, Amendment 4 and new congressional maps are all on a crash course with the high court.
  3. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. It has met just once more since then. The Florida Channel
    Lawmakers have yet to set an aggressive agenda beyond talk of teacher pay as the 2020 legislative session nears.
  4. Kevin J. Thibault, left, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    The report found a lack of oversight and controls by the department.
  5. Agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants his state to set up a system that will require employers to verify the immigration status of job applicants. But it's unclear if that effort will get any traction among lawmakers, especially since a similar effort failed during the most recent legislative session earlier this year. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    It was the second unusual decision Fried has made to refrain from voting on the Office of Financial Regulation.
  6. George Buck, left, a Republican running for Congress in St. Petersburg, signed a fundraising letter that suggested U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, a Somali-born Democrat representing Minnesota, and other Democrats should be executed. Buck is challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg. Times | Associated Press
    House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed Buck from the party’s Young Guns program.
  7. FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2018 file photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. A federal judge has temporarily set aside a Florida law that barred some felons from voting because of their inability to pay fines and other legal debts. The ruling handed down Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle means thousands of felons who were denied the right to vote will be able to cast ballots unless the state gets a higher court to intervene or if Hinkle later upholds the constitutionality of the state law. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    The 2018 ballot measure passed by voters allowing most non-violent felons to register to vote would be void if an earlier judicial ruling is upheld, an attorney representing DeSantis’ administration...
  8. In this Aug. 28, 2014, photo, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes a statement, at Boryspil airport in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mikhail Palinchak)
    Taking a closer look at what the story does — and doesn’t — show about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016.
  9. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee speaks at an October news conference in Tallahassee. STEVE CANNON  |  Associated Press
    Hackers don’t need to break into elections systems to cause chaos. They could just change the results on every county’s website.
  10. Members of the Florida Supreme Court listen to Gov. Ron DeSantis' speech during a joint session of the Florida Legislature in March. Left to Right are: Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, and Robert J. Luck. There are now five members of the court after Lagoa and Luck were appointed to the 11th District Court of Appeal by President Trump. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    There are 3.6 million unaffiliated voters who cannot vote in Florida’s closed primary system. Will that change in 2020?