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Gov. DeSantis appeals judge’s order in Amendment 4 lawsuit

The federal judge had ordered that 17 felons not be removed from the voter rolls before a lawsuit goes to trial next year.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Panama City City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. His wife Casey DeSantis is pregnant with the family's third child. He joked that the family will have to transition from "man-to-man to zone defense." (Joshua Boucher/News Herald via AP) [JOSHUA BOUCHER/ THE NEWS HERALD | AP]
Published Nov. 15
Updated Nov. 15

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday appealed a federal judge’s injunction in a lawsuit over Amendment 4, which restored the right to register to vote to felons earlier this year.

The injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle last month required elections supervisors not to remove from the voter rolls 17 felons who are suing the state. They sued the state this year after DeSantis signed into law a bill requiring felons pay back all court fees, fines and restitution before being allowed to vote.

The 17 plaintiffs said they were either too poor to afford to pay back the hundreds or thousands of dollars they owe, or that court clerks were unable to tell them how much they owe.

RELATED STORY: Being poor shouldn’t stop Florida felons from voting, judge rules in Amendment 4 case

In a statement, DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Ferré accused the 17 plaintiffs of “attempting to use the court process to re-write the scope and original intent of the amendment.”

“The governor understands that protecting the integrity of our elections system is paramount and believes Floridians deserve greater clarification regarding the implementation of Amendment 4,” spokeswoman Helen Ferré said in a statement.

Nearly two-thirds of voters last year voted for Amendment 4, which reversed a racist Jim Crow-era law by restoring the right to vote to nearly all felons who completed “all terms" of their sentence. But the definition of “all terms” has been the source of intense debate and national scrutiny. DeSantis opposed Amendment 4.

The creators of Amendment 4 said that “all terms” included the typically thousands of dollars in court fees, fines and restitution that are nearly always tacked on to felony convictions.

RELATED STORY: Lawmakers made Amendment 4 an ‘administrative nightmare,’ federal judge says

The Republican-led Legislature this year then passed a bill defining “all terms” to include those court costs.

But their bill was quickly denounced as a “poll tax” by critics, and some of the creators of Amendment 4 said lawmakers chose an overly broad interpretation. Many of those financial obligations are often converted to civil liens, sometimes immediately upon sentencing, for example, meaning the money is no longer part of the criminal court system.

By requiring felons pay back all financial obligations before voting, lawmakers drastically undercut the promise of Amendment 4, which was believed to restore the right to vote to up to 1.4 million Floridians.

Hundreds of thousands of those people are too poor to pay back their financial obligations, or at least to pay them back immediately. One woman owes $59 million, for example, likely making her unable to ever vote.

RELATED STORY: After judge’s ‘spanking,’ lawmakers will tweak Amendment 4 bill next session

In his injunction, Hinkle wrote that being poor cannot stop people from voting, and that the Legislature must create a way for poor felons who owe money to vote.

Lawmakers were already working on tweaks to the law to address Hinkle’s concerns and are expected to pass something next legislative session, before the case is scheduled to go to trial in April.

The injunction is being appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Appealing this order will provide quicker finality and certainty, allowing enough time to implement any protections and procedures for the restoration of voting rights prior to the November (2020) general election,” Ferré said.


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