Arbitrary Rights Restoration
Florida Former Felon Voting Rights Restoration (2018)
In March, 2017, Fair Elections Legal Network and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed a class action lawsuit to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights upon the completion of a sentence and end Florida’s arbitrary process for re-enfranchisement. The plaintiffs included nine individuals with felony convictions, many of whom have applied for restoration of their voting rights and have were denied for minor infractions, like traffic violations, or for no reason at all.
In early 2018, District Court Judge Mark Walker ruled Florida’s arbitrary voting rights restoration process for persons with felony convictions violated the 1st and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Court concluded the process by which Florida officials granted or denied former felons’ restoration of voting rights applications was unconstitutionally arbitrary. The state's lawyers have appealed this decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, before the appellate court released its opinion, Florida voters in 2018 adopted a Voting Rights Restoration Amendment, known as Amendment 4, with overwhelming support. Amendment 4 revised the Florida constitution to restore voting rights for most people with felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. All of the plaintiffs regained their voting rights, mooting the case. Oral arguments are scheduled for July 25.
Unfortunately, some seven months after Amendment 4’s adoption, the Florida Legislature enacted SB 7066, which requires people with felony convictions to pay off certain legal debts before they can regain their right to vote. By some estimates, SB 7066 has continued to disenfranchise 700,000 Floridians for no other reason than an inability to pay. Florida is one of four states that denies the right to vote to all persons with felony convictions who have completed their sentences until they petition for rights restoration. 1.68 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised—the highest state total in the nation. 1.48 million of those people have already completed their sentences, and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications. This includes men and women of all different political parties, races, ethnicities, ages, from cities and rural areas, as well as veterans, small business owners, essential workers and others.
Tampa Bay Times "Editorial: A historic order for voting rights"
Florida Politics "Judge orders new system for restoring rights"
Daily Business Journal "Advocates for ex-felons hail ruling that opens door to voting rights restoration"
The American Prospect "Movement in the Fight for Voting Rights Restoration"
Florida Politics "Florida an outlier on restoring felons' rights"