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In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, former felon Desmond Meade and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, left, fills out a voter registration form as his wife Sheena looks on at the Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, former felon Desmond Meade and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, left, fills out a voter registration form as his wife Sheena looks on at the Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Court: Florida can’t bar felons from vote over fines, fees

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida cannot bar felons who served their time from registering to vote simply because they have failed to pay all fines and fees stemming from their cases, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tallahassee federal judge’s preliminary injunction that the implementation of Amendment 4 — approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 to allow most felons who served their time to regain the right to vote — amounted to an unfair poll tax that would disenfranchise many of them..

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will immediately ask the entire 11th Circuit to reconsider the ruling. In addition, a full trial on the issue is set to begin this spring.

The GOP-led Legislature and DeSantis last year approved an implementation law for the constitutional amendment stating that only felons who have completed all conditions of their sentences should be allowed to vote. He and GOP lawmakers say that to regain the right to vote, felons must not only serve their prison time but also pay all fines and other legal financial obligations.

That was challenged in federal court by voting rights groups representing 17 plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law

As many as 1.6 million Florida felons who have completed their prison sentences could regain voting privileges under Amendment 4.

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