The last time we checked in on the ability of ex-felons to vote in Florida, I questioned whether Florida’s requirement that all court-assessed fines and fees be paid would survive, Some of Florida ex-felon vote in limbo after SCOTUS ruling:

Why do so many people, Democrat and Republican alike, assume that felons released from prison will vote Democrat, and that a Florida ballot initiative that passed in 2018, restoring voting to ex-felons, would help Democrats? It’s not clear that’s true, at least not to the extent people assume.

That assumption seems to be at the heart of the political battle in Florida over the circumstances under which felons who have served their time can vote. The Florida legislature passed legislation requiring that an ex-felon, to be deemed to have served his sentence, needed to pay court-assessed fees and financial penalties.

After a District Court issued an injunction against the requirement to pay fees, the 11th Circuit stayed the injunction pending consideration of the full case on the merits….

The Supreme Court just declined to overturn that Order by the 11th Circuit staying the District Court injunction…

Since the 11th Circuit will consider the case in August, it’s very possible that the lower court injunction will be affirmed, and the ex-felons at issue will be able to vote in November. Or that it will be back at the Supreme Court at a more ripe moment. I see the Supreme Court denial of the motion to vacate the 11th Circuit stay as a mostly procedural issue.

So back to my question, why are we assuming this hurts Democrats?

The 11th Circuit, en banc (full court) just ruled in favor of the State of Florida. The ruling was 6-4.

The Opinion (pdf.) holds, in pertinent part:

Florida has long followed the common practice of excluding those who commit serious crimes from voting. But in 2018, the people of Florida approved a historic amendment to their state constitution to restore the voting rights of thousands of convicted felons. They imposed only one condition: before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their criminal sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution. We must decide whether the financial terms of that condition violate the Constitution.

Several felons sued to challenge the requirement that they pay their fines, fees, costs, and restitution before regaining the right to vote. They complained that this requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to felons who cannot afford to pay the required amounts and that it imposes a tax on voting in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment; that the laws governing felon reenfranchisement and voter fraud are void for vagueness; and that Florida has denied them procedural due process by adopting requirements that make it difficult for them to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The district court entered a permanent injunction that allows any felon who is unable to pay his fines or restitution or who has failed for any reason to pay his court fees and costs to register and vote. Because the felons failed to prove a violation of the Constitution, we reverse the judgment of the district court and vacate the challenged portions of its injunction.

The Dissent (starting at page 97 of the pdf., with another Dissent by some of those judges at page 81) argued, in part, that Florida’s system left most ex-felons unable to determine what they actually owed such that they even could pay it off if they wanted to. This was all a ruse to defeate the will of the electorate:

In arguing this appeal, the State told us outright what it has been showing us
all along: The State doesn’t care if “the proportion of felons able to complete their
sentence” with LFOs included is “0%.” Reply Br. of Appellants at 15–16. If this
is not a nullification of the will of the electorate, I don’t know what would be. And
it is a dream deferred11 for the men and women who, having paid their debt to
society to the extent of their capacity—often by having served lengthy prison
sentences and periods under supervision—are deprived of the franchise that
Amendment 4 promised to automatically restore. The majority today deprives the
plaintiffs and countless others like them of opportunity and equality in voting
through its denial of the plaintiffs’ due process, Twenty-Fourth Amendment, and
equal protection claims. I dissent.

For sure, there will be an attempt to get the Supreme Court to issue a stay of the 11th Circuit ruling, and to reinstate the District Court injuncation allowing ex-felons to vote without regard to financial penalties and fees still owed.

If the 11th Circuit ruling holds, will the diminution of the ex-felon vote hurt Democrats? Everyone assumes so, even Democrats. Think about that.


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