voting rights

Voting Rights and Gavel
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An amendment allowing felons to register to vote in Florida has been in effect since January 8th, but verifying which felons are eligible has proven problematic. The State’s Restoration of Voting Rights Work Group met today to figure out how to ease the problem.

Wilfredo Lee / AP Photo

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of a law that allows certain felons to vote but requires them to pay any fees associated with their sentence first. Critics call the new rule a poll tax. But the bill’s author argues he simply followed the language voters approved in a 2018 amendment. Now the Judge presiding over the case is questioning whether the amendment itself violates the constitution. I spoke with ACLU lawyer Julie Ebenstein to get the groups' view.

Florida Supreme Court
Nick Evans / WFSU News

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to answer Governor Ron DeSantis’s question about whether the state can make felons pay restitution, fines, and fees before allowing them to register to vote.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, listens to the debate on his sponsored felon voting rights bill during session Wednesday April 24, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Steve Cannon / AP Photo

After a new law allowing some felons to regain the right to vote went into effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit calling the law unconstitutional. The group says the implementing bill doesn’t follow an amendment passed by voters. And argues the laws’ financial obligations create a poll tax and cut the number of eligible felons in half.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, answers questions during debate over his House Bill 7089 - Voting Rights Restoration,Tuesday April 23, 2019 in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla.
Phil Sears / AP Photo

The constitutionality of a Florida 2018 amendment allowing certain felons to vote after paying back fines, fees, and restitution is now at question. That comes after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the implementing bill.

During a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle asked lawyers to weigh in on whether a 2018 amendment allowing certain felons to vote is constitutional.

Bob Rackleff and others prior to going door to door registering people to vote.
Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

Thousands of felons throughout the state are now eligible to vote, thanks to Amendment 4 and Governor Ron DeSantis signing the implementing bill into law. However, to do so they will have to register first, and organizations and advocates have been fanning out across Florida to sign up these newly eligible voters. Joining those efforts is former Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff.

Gavel being struck with money in between.
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Voting Rights groups are challenging a new Florida law, saying it quote “violates the prohibition against poll taxes”. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill late Friday, it requires felons to pay court fines and fees before registering to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and NAACP are all part of the lawsuit.

WFSU’s Blaise Gainey speaks with Julie Ebenstein, the lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who submitted the lawsuit.

Felons registering to vote.
Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill implementing 2018's Amendment 4. When voters passed the amendment it was expected that nearly 1.5 million felons would be allowed to vote. But the Republican-dominated legislature passed an implementation bill that many say changes the intent.

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Under the bill passed last month by the Florida Legislature, felons must prove they’ve paid all fees and fines connected with their crime before they can regain the right to vote. But Leon County Clerk of Court Gwen Marshall says the big problem is no way now exists to prove all payments have been made.

Andrew Gillum, Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Florida, speaks during a campaign rally attended by Former President Barack Obama, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in Miami.
Lynne Sladky / Associated Press

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum says John Morgan should put his money where his mouth is. Morgan recently called out Gillum for keeping some $3 million in his campaign account -- money Morgan says Gillum should use to pay the restitution fees for former felons to help them regain their right to vote.

Two people standing at voting booths
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The United States Committee on House Administration held a field hearing Monday to examine voting rights and elections systems in Florida.

files and a gavel. text reads "felon voting"
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Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that details how a felon would go about getting their voting rights restored. It comes on the final day of the regular legislative session and  after 5.1 million Floridians voted in November to give felons who’ve completed their sentence and did not commit a felony sexual assault or murder their voting rights back.

zimmytws / Adobe Stock

Since January 8, felons have been registering to vote as long as they’ve completed their sentence, and did not commit a felony sexual offense or murder. But all session long the legislature has been trying to determine exactly who that excludes. The current bill includes attempted murder, and also makes a felon have to pay off any outstanding civil liens or obligations to the court as a result of their case.

Florida's capitol complex, as seen from above (undated photo)
WFSU-FM

Earlier this week legislators on the House floor spent nearly two hours debating a bill that would allow certain felons to vote. This is in response to over 5 million citizens agreeing that they should be allowed to do so. Majority of the debate was focused on when a felon would have their voting right restored.

Wilfredo Lee / AP Photo

When amendments are made to the constitution sometimes they need legislation to be passed that would implement the change. Well this year lawmakers are doing that with 2018’s Amendment 4 which allows certain felons the right to vote after completing their sentence. There’s debate over whether implementing legislation is needed and WFSU’s Blaise Gainey reports both sides clashed during Thursday’s bill hearing.

In November, voters in Florida restored voting rights for felons who have completed their sentence and did not commit a murder or sexual offense should be restored. Now, four weeks into session lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that is meant to help execute what the voters asked for. Reggie Garcia, a clemency lawyer sat down to explain exactly what voters approved.

Chris O'Meara / AP Photo

Lawmakers in the Senate today passed a bill that would implement Amendment 4, which allows certain felons to vote. But as Blaise Gainey reports proponents of the amendment say it’s self-enacting and the bill passed today isn’t needed and may not meet constitutional muster.

John Raoux / AP Photo

Public commenters gave lawmakers an earful today when the implementing bill for 2018’s Amendment 4 came up in a House committee meeting. The amendment allows certain felons to vote. But that raises the question which felons can’t vote?

Felons registering to vote.
Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

It’s Official. As of January 8th, felons who weren’t convicted of murder or a sex offense can now have their voting rights restored, as long as they’ve completed their sentence. Felons in Leon County started registering as soon as election offices opened.

Voter Ballot
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Select felons who’ve completed their sentence will be eligible to vote come January 8th, following the passage of amendment 4. As Blaise Gainey reports Elections officials met this week to discuss how to add the roughly 1.5 million extra voters to the list.

Ryan Dailey / WFSUNews

The fight to restore voting rights for those with a felony in their past has become a rapidly intensifying factor in shaping upcoming state elections. After an apparent political victory for Gov. Rick Scott’s cabinet, Democratic challengers are hitting back.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, debates on the House floor May. 5 2017.
Florida House of Representatives

Florida voters will be asked in November whether to automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. This comes as the state clemency board has been ordered to revise its process for restoring rights. Now some state candidates are weighing in.

Andrew Quintana / WFSU

The journey for Florida felons to regain their right to vote recently overcame its largest hurdle, as the grassroots citizen’s initiative received enough signatures to place the issue on the 2018 ballot. This has prompted a similar proposal to be withdrawn in order to avoid confusion at the polls.

Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers is looking to create an alternative to restore the rights of former inmates.

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