Florida Supreme Court rules that felons must pay fines before voting

In 2018, Florida passed a constitutional amendment that would allow convicted felons to vote.

While Democrats were expected to capitalize on the predicted influx of new voters, the state’s Supreme Court just threw a wrench into those plans.

Amendment Four dispute

The amendment’s language required prospective voters to have completed “all terms” of their sentence, and last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that requires former convicts to have met their legal financial obligations (LFO) before they can be re-enfranchised.

Last week, the State Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion that concluded all terms of the sentence have not been served until all fines, fees, and court-ordered restitution payments have been covered.

“There is no basis to conclude that ‘all terms of sentence’ excludes any LFOs ordered by the sentencing judge. Indeed, an abundance of statutory and case law supports the conclusion that fines, restitution, and fees and costs all comfortably fit within the ordinary meaning of ‘all terms of sentence.”

“Beginning with restitution, this Court has referred to that obligation as part of a ‘sentence,’ and even as ‘punishment,'” the majority said. “An analysis of fines looks remarkably similar. Indeed, this Court has referred to fines as part of a ‘sentence.’”

“Although fees and costs can reasonably be said to differ in many respects from restitution and fines, various court pronouncements and statutory provisions similarly support including them within the scope of Amendment 4’s phrase ‘all terms of sentence,'” the court added.

Electoral consequences

Nancy Abudu is the Deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and she expressed her displeasure with the ruling.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s decision is disappointing and cuts the 1.4 million people who voters expressly intended to re-enfranchise almost in half,” she complained.

The ruling could have a substantial impact on this year’s election, as it was estimated that as many as 1.4 million residents could have become eligible to cast a ballot. What’s more, observers predicted that a majority of those showing up at the polls would favor Democrats.

Long considered a swing-state, elections in Florida are hotly contested. In 2016, President Trump carried the state by a mere 1.2 percent.

It was also the center of a national controversy in 2000 when a recount was required to determine the outcome. After more than a month, then-Gov. George W. Bush was finally determined to have won by a 537 vote margin.

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