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Court upholds Florida law requiring felons to pay fines, fees before they can vote

A federal appeals court ruled Friday to uphold a Florida law requiring up to 1 million felons in the state to finish paying fines and fees before they are eligible to vote.

The 10-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in a 6-4 ruling to reverse a lower court judge’s decision that gave Florida felons the right to vote regardless of outstanding legal obligations.

“Florida withholds the franchise from any felon, regardless of wealth, who has failed to complete any term of his criminal sentence—financial or otherwise,” the majority wrote. 

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In July, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to revisit a prior federal appeals court ruling before the primary voter registration deadline.

The case stems from an amendment to Florida's constitution passed in 2018 that restored voting rights to those with felony convictions who had completed “all terms” of their sentences. The state legislature and Supreme Court decided that “all terms” also requires fines and fees.

Friday's ruling, which came as a disappointment to voting rights activists, comes less than two months before the November election. Florida’s General Election voter registration deadline is Oct. 5 and early voting begins Oct. 19.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision,” Paul Smith, vice president at Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “While the full rights restoration envisioned by Amendment 4 has become less likely to be realized this fall, we will continue this fight for all Florida voters, so the full benefits of Amendment 4 will someday be realized.”

Florida is one of several key swing states that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE won by a relatively small margin in 2016.