Democrats and voting rights activists decry Amendment 4 decision
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

nikki fried
11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state Friday in the rights restoration case.

Democrats and voting rights organizations in Florida lambasted the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday for ruling the state could deny felons the right to vote until they pay fines and fees.

They reversed a lower court’s ruling that the system established by lawmakers after voters approved Amendment 4, which redefined the meaning to complete a sentence, was unconstitutional. Under Amendment 4, which Florida voter passed overwhelmingly in 2018, felons who have completed their sentences would have voting rights restored.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone statewide-elected Democrat, has repeatedly bemoaned Republicans’ defense of the restriction and Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ role in stunting voting rights restoration.

“Although this ruling is a setback, we cannot allow ourselves to be set back in our pursuit of justice for those who have paid their debt to society,” Fried said in a statement. “This decision must only renew our fight to ensure all Floridians can exercise their Constitutional right to vote.”

Under DeSantis, the state Clemency Board, composed of the Governor and the Cabinet, has only restored the rights of 24 Floridians. Under then-Gov. Rick Scott, the board restored the rights of 3,000 felons. Under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the board restored rights to 155,000 felons, and it restored rights to another 76,000 under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Common Cause’s Florida chair, Liza McClenaghan, spoke out against the ruling as well.

“The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision issued today is anathema to our country’s values,” McClenaghan said. “Our republic is stronger when more people participate. The ability to vote should never be conditioned on economic circumstances. The ‘demos’ in democracy means all the people decide, not the moneyed people.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center derided the decision as “completely contrary to the words and spirit of our constitution.”

“With mere days before many Floridians begin voting in a historic General Election, the Eleventh Circuit today put forward a dangerously misguided decision that throws hundreds of thousands of Floridians into confusion about their sacred right to vote,” said Nancy Abudu, the group’s deputy legal director.

That confusion could lead felons to accidentally vote and commit voter fraud because the state isn’t required to clarify the standard for returning citizens.

Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, touched on the ruling during a Friday afternoon press conference.

“We’re living in a state that right now is forcing citizens to chose between putting food on the table for their kids, and voting,” Meade said.

“The 11th Circuit’s decision is a blow to democracy and to the hundreds of thousands of returning citizens across Florida who should have an opportunity to participate in this incredibly important election,” he added in an official statement.

Shortly after the decision Friday, U.S. Rep. Val Demings introduced a bill to prohibit states from denying federal voting rights to citizens regardless of prior criminal convictions. The Representative, a former police chief who served 26 years as an officer in Orlando, titled her proposal “Every American Has the Right to Vote Act.”

“Every American should have the right and the responsibility to participate in our democracy,” the Democrat wrote in a news release. “I enforced the law for nearly three decades. Anyone who commits a crime should be held accountable. But committing a crime does not remove your humanity and it should not silence your voice. A debt to society must be paid, but that debt should never include our right to vote.”

DeSantis’ communications director, Fred Piccolo, took to Twitter to support the decision with a jab at the Governor’s critics.

“I fully expect everyone yelling at the governor today about the Constitution and the rule of law will happily accept the 11th circuit’s decision on amendment 4,” he tweeted.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


4 comments

  • Tjb

    September 11, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    The court ruling:
    A slap to the face of Florida voters. Over 64 % of the voters in Florida supported granting felons the right to vote. The Republicans of Florida wants these citizens to pay what is essentially a poll tax, a violation of Amendment 24. While many of our Republican legislators are panicking about voter fraud, they have no issue suppressing the rights and the ability of Floridians to vote.

  • Andy Madtes

    September 11, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    They do this with every statewide referendum.
    Class size
    Marijuana
    Now this. Wait see what they do when the minimum wage passes. They will hold that up forever.
    Folks we got to organize organize organize and get a balance of power in Tallahassee!!!

  • Sonja Fitch

    September 11, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    Vote out these right wing losers!

  • James Robert Miles

    September 11, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    A politically motivated decision, essentially a poll tax meant to help the GOP. A poll tax is supposed to be illegal. Once again the GOP ignores the will of the people! Make America truly great again. DUMP TRUMP!!

Comments are closed.


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