Appeals Court ruling on felon voting in Florida could swing presidential election

Northwest Florida

Up to one million votes are at stake. 6-4 ruling was on political lines

It’s a court ruling that ultimately determine the presidential outcome in Florida, and in the nation.

Friday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court judge’s decision that gave Florida felons the right to vote, regardless of outstanding legal financial obligations.

In November 2018, Florians passed Amendment 4 by a two-to-one margin. The referendum called for voting rights to be restored to felons who had served their prison time and probation period. Only those convicted of murder, rape, and a handful of other violent crimes were exempt. The move would have restored voting rights to as many as one million people.

In 2019, however, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature required that in addition to time served, felons would have to pay all legal financial obligations, including unpaid fines and restitution, before they could be eligible to vote. Opponents argue that was not the intention of Florida voters and that the measure was discriminatory based on income and therefore constituted an illegal poll tax.

Florida is the nation’s third most populous state and has 29 electoral votes. Only once in the last 14 presidential elections (1992) has a candidate won without carrying Florida.

Florida’s presidential elections have been won by razor-thin margins, most famously when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes in 2000. But the last two elections in Florida have also been extrememy close. Donald Trump won by 113,000 votes in 2016 and Barack Obama by 65,000 in 2012.

The Appeals Court’s ruling was 6-4. Five of the judges in the majority were appointed by President Trump, and the sixth, Chief Judge William Pryor, has been mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. All four judges in the minority were named by Democratic presidents.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat elected to statewide office in Florida, was disappointed by the Appeals Court decision.

“Although this ruling is a setback, we cannot allow ourselves to be set back in our pursuit of justice for those who have paid their debt to society,” Fried said. “Neither history, nor the one million Floridians awaiting justice, will be deterred by today’s ruling.”

Fried is also a member of the Florida Clemency Board which can restore voting rights.
She says the board currently has a backlog of 11,000 clemency applicants for restoration of civil rights, but Republican Ron DeSantis has stalled the process.

“Governor DeSantis has not held a Clemency Board meeting in 282 days, and continues wasting taxpayer dollars fighting Amendment 4 in court,” Fried said in a press release.

Under DeSantis, just 24 Floridians have had their voting rights restored. More than 234,000 Floridians regained voting rights under DeSantis’ predecessors Governors Rick Scott (3,000) Charlie Crist (155,000), and Jeb Bush (76,000).

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