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voting rights

Newly filed court records are shedding light on the closely watched federal court case relating to voting rights for people with felony convictions. Several groups filed lawsuits against state and local officials after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law tying the right to vote to paying all the fines and fees related to a felony conviction.

The first lawsuit concerning a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis requiring convicted felons to pay court fees and fines before they can register to vote has ties to the Tampa Bay area. 

Disability attorney Michael Steinberg of Tampa filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kelvin Jones, a disabled veteran and former prisoner, almost immediately after DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7066 into law June 28. It has already been combined with a number of other similar cases. 

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Florida Secretary of State and ten county Supervisors of Elections across the peninsula, in what amounts to the first major legal challenge to a controversial bill that was passed by the Republican-dominated legislature to require former felons pay all fines and fees before being able to vote.

Floridians approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most felons in November.  In May, Florida lawmakers passed a law requiring them to repay all financial penalties incurred at sentencing before they can register.

ProCon.org

Seeking to carry out a November constitutional amendment, the Florida Senate on Thursday passed a measure that would require repayment of financial obligations before felons’ voting rights could be restored, an issue that’s been a sticking point as lawmakers grappled with one of this year’s most controversial pieces of legislation. 

Under an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida counties will be required to provide Spanish and English ballots.
Roberto Roldan / WUSF Public Media

Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered Spanish-language ballots to be provided across Florida. The move comes amidst legal pressure from a number of groups and a judge's order.

Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis Directs Action On Spanish-Language Ballots

Apr 12, 2019

Amid a federal court battle involving 32 counties, including several in Northeast Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday directed the state’s elections chief to begin a process to address the availability of Spanish-language ballots and Spanish-language voter assistance.

Florida Could Make It Harder To Change State Constitution

Apr 9, 2019

Amending the state constitution would require approval by a two-thirds majority of voters, up from the current 60 percent, under a proposed ballot question approved by a House committee Monday. 

Sign reading "Vote precinct precinto"
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF

A coalition of groups has asked a federal judge to require 32 Florida counties -- including a handful of Tampa Bay area ones -- to offer Spanish-language ballots and other election materials, the latest move in a legal battle that started last year. 

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.

Felons in Florida would have to settle pending fines and fees before having their voting rights restored, according to a proposal currently making its way through the legislature. Critics say that flies directly in the face of Amendment 4, the constitutional amendment passed in November, and amounts to a modern day “poll tax.”

Emmet Jopling Bondurant II knew about the civil rights movement when he was a student at the University of Georgia in the 1950s, but he didn't join it.

"I was trying to get through college," the burly, white-haired 82-year-old said in an interview. "And I'm embarrassed to say I was not involved. I should have been involved much sooner."

But, as a 26-year-old lawyer, he soon took part in one of the most important voting rights cases before the Supreme Court in the 1960s — one that ultimately required states to put equal numbers of people in congressional districts.

Former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum laid out a vision of “registering and engaging” one million new voters across Florida over the next few years at an event in Miami Gardens on Wednesday.

With Amendment 4 going into effect in less than a week, there are parts of the process of restoring the voting rights for convicted felons that appear to have not yet been considered, said incoming Democratic state Senator Jason Pizzo. He said it could potentially throw a wrench into the rights restoration process.

With its passage on November 6, Amendment 4 granted over a million felons across the state the right to vote.

Florida is one of the strictest states when it comes to restoring the right to vote for people with felony convictions.

Former felons do not automatically get the right to vote back after they’ve served their time. That's  1.5 million Floridians who cannot vote.

Amendment 4 would automatically restore the right to vote for former felons except for people with murder or sex crime convictions.

It has wide bipartisan support and very little organized opposition, though some candidates have stated they are not in support of an automatic restoration process.

Florida is one of only a few states that doesn’t automatically restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences. The fight goes back years and it's been waged both in court and in the court of public opinion. Now, voters themselves have the chance to weigh in with Amendment 4. It  would automatically restore rights to most felons. But there are exceptions that’s created a divide inside the main group pushing hardest for the change.

Florida elections officials were wrong to block on-campus early voting sites in Gainesville and Tallahassee, lawyers for the League of Women Voters of Florida told a federal judge Monday.

At Florida's Capitol in Tallahassee, four times a year, dozens of anxious people gather to hear a decision that will affect the rest of their lives. Felons whose sentences and probation are complete stand before the governor and other Cabinet members to ask for clemency and the restoration of their right to vote.

After waiting for years, Joanne Calvarese made her case to the clemency board in June.

"I feel that I have paid my consequences," Calvarese said. "I know I don't deserve your mercy, but I beg you for it."

Caribbean American Civic Movement

A small street festival outside Miami features booths adorned with Puerto Rican flags. A band plays salsa music as vendors offer specialties from the Caribbean island such as rice with pork and chickpeas. There's also a woman working her way through the crowd with a clipboard, her white T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Your vote, your voice, your future."

As an appellate court reviews an appeal by Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet in the battle for a new rights restoration scheme for felons, protesters rallied at the Capitol Thursday. Civil rights leaders urged support for a citizens’ initiative amendment on the ballot in November.

Federal District Court Judge Mark Walker has issued a deadline for Gov. Rick Scott to establish a new process for restoring ex-felons’ voting rights: April 26. 

ProCon.org

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Florida to devise a new way to decide when and how former prisoners can get their voting rights restored, saying Gov. Rick Scott and state officials can no longer rely on "whims, passing emotions, or perceptions" in that process.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also blocked the state's current system of forcing most ex-felons to wait at least five years before they can ask to have their voting rights restored.

The system was put in place back in 2011 at the urging of Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Florida’s campaign to restore voting rights to felons is gathering national media attention, and national financing. Now activists are trying to focus that energy to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot. WFSU reports on the grassroots campaign to gather 1 million signatures before the end of the year.

An attempt to restore felons’ voting rights in Florida is getting a national boost this week. Comedian Samantha Bee of the TBS show Full Frontal sat down with Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Meade is behind a proposed ballot initiative that would automatically restore civil rights to felons. Here’s a portion of Bee’s segment.

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for convicted felons filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against Florida officials, alleging that the state's process for restoring voting rights to people who have completed their sentences is arbitrary.

Fewer felons are getting their voting rights restored under Governor Rick Scott than in the past two administrations. Attorney Brittnie Baker said Scott has denied her clients the right to once again vote because of traffic violations or admitting they drank or used drugs.

Florida Supreme Court justices are considering allowing hundreds of thousands of ex-felons to vote. They heard arguments from Floridians For a Fair Democracy on a ballot initiative that would restore voting rights for residents who have completed their sentences.