TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It came down to a question of wording, after Florida voters in 2018 approved amendment 4.
The amendment called for the restoration of voting rights for felons who were not convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole and probation.”
That statement led to more than a year of legislative and court battles over the meaning of “complete all terms”.
Gov. Ron DeSantis sided with a number of Republican lawmakers who asserted the amendment requires felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before their voting rights are restored. Civil rights groups like the ACLU argued that amounted to an illegal poll tax designed to further disenfranchise a potentially large block of voters.
On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court finally dropped the gavel on the debate.
The justices issued an opinion advising the governor and the attorney general that the wording of amendment 4 – “complete all terms of their sentence” – does include all the money a felon is required to pay.
“The phrase 'completion of all terms of sentence' includes any period of incarceration, probation, parole and financial obligations imposed as part of an individual’s sentence. The financial obligations may include restitution and fines, imposed as part of a sentence or a condition of probation under existing Florida statute,” the justices wrote in their opinion.
It’s unclear how this ruling with affect felons who have already registered to vote.
There are nearly 1,500,000 felons in Florida.
That number includes one in five potential voters in the African American community.
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