Can Felons Vote in Florida?
Most felons who have served their sentences — including parole and probation — and have paid all of their fines, restitution, and fees, can vote in Florida elections.
Felon Voting Rights Restored, But Limited
In November 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, a measure that restores voting rights to certain felons (nearly 1.4 million people) once they have served their sentences, including parole and probation. Those convicted of murder and sexual offenses remain unable to vote.
In March 2019, a state law was passed that limits Amendment 4. That law requires former felons to either pay all fees that they owe as part of their case or get their sentence modified in order to register to vote. At the time of its passing, this law prevented nearly 775,000 felons from voting.
Challenging Pay-to-Vote: Raysor v. DeSantis
To challenge the 2019 pay-to-vote law, felons brought court cases arguing:
- A significant majority of felons would not be able to pay the fees, thus being unable to vote due to poverty. They claimed this was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
- The requirement amounted to a voting tax, violating the 24th Amendment.
- There was no system in place allowing felons to easily determine how much they owed in fines, fees, and restitution. Without clear guidance on what (or if) they owed money, felons would fear fraud charges and avoid registering to vote.
In May 2020, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the state law was unconstitutional in part. In the ruling, the judge stated that the law discriminates against those who cannot afford to pay and amounts to an unconstitutional tax. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which temporarily put the district court's ruling on hold. This hold is called a "stay," something courts can put in place while they decide on a case.
The felons appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking them to lift the stay, since it impaired the ability of felons to vote in the August primary election.
The Supreme Court ruled in the state's favor, keeping the stay in place and preventing felons from voting under Amendment 4. In the dissent, Justice Sotomayor argued that the stay "prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida's primary election simply because they are poor." She further stated that the Court's inaction condoned disenfranchisement.
The 11th Circuit will hear the case, Raysor v. DeSantis, on August 18, 2020, the same day as the Florida primary.
How Other States View Felon Voting Rights
The rules over whether to allow felons to vote vary by state, as does the process of restoring those rights. Some states require a pardon from the state before voting rights are restored, while others automatically grant it upon a felon's unconditional release from prison. Others require that the felon has never been found mentally incompetent by a judge.
Eighteen states, including the District of Columbia, restore felons' voting rights automatically once they're released from prison. Twenty-one others restore those rights once parole and probation are completed.
Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote while still in prison. In Kentucky, felons can only restore their voting rights with a petition or application to the state government.
The Crime Committed Plays a Role
Sometimes, restoring a felon's voting rights depends on the crime they have been convicted of. For example, as is still the case in Florida with murder and sex offenses, Delaware has a number of “disqualifying" felonies such as murder or certain sex crimes.
Speak to an Attorney to Reinstate Your Voting Rights
Being freed from jail can be an exciting time, but also an overwhelming one. The uncertainty of Amendment 4 has left both felons and clerks of court unsure about the registration paperwork needed to restore voting rights. If you're uncertain about your rights, or if you feel you or someone you love should have their voting rights reinstated, contact a local civil rights attorney.