Last November, a statewide referendum passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to more than 1.2 million Floridians with felony records. But Florida's Legislature, led by GOP lawmakers, passed a law in March that required ex-felons to pay off any outstanding court-related debt before they could be eligible to vote. Critics likened it to a racist "poll tax," reminiscent of Jim Crow-era voter suppression.
"We looked at this as a celebration of creating a more inclusive democracy," said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which pushed the successful constitutional amendment in November to restore voting rights to former felons in Florida.
Former felons will still be on the hook for the court costs, but fines will no longer prevent them from registering to vote. A controversial law passed earlier this year had blocked former felons who still had outstanding court fines and fees, even if they were unable to pay.
The amendment overturned a 150-year-old law that had prevented felons from voting, designed to restrict black people from voting. Florida had been one of only four states that restricted convicted felons from voting. By 2016, 1 in 5 black Floridians were barred from voting because they had a felony on their record.
Some ex-felons had already registered to vote after Amendment 4's passage, only to be notified that their eligibility had been rescinded after the Legislature's new bill took effect.
More than a dozen ex-felons have since sued the state, many represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
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