Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking a federal appeals court to put on hold a ruling that would pave the way for hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have been convicted of felonies to register and vote in November, arguing the decision could “corrupt” the integrity of the state’s elections.
The Republican governor Wednesday requested that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issue a stay as his administration fights a lower-court ruling about a 2019 state law aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment that restored the voting rights of felons “who have completed all terms of their sentences, including parole and probation.”
Voting-rights and civil-rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of part of the 2019 law that requires felons to pay “legal financial obligations” — fees, fines, costs and restitution — associated with their convictions to be eligible to vote.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in October that the state cannot deny the right to vote to someone who is “genuinely unable to pay.” He cemented the ruling last month and laid out a process for the state to use in determining felons’ voting eligibility. He also issued a ruling Sunday that rejected a stay sought by DeSantis.
In a 35-page brief filed Wednesday, the state’s lawyers argued that the 2019 law should not be overturned.
“Here, Florida’s interest in punishing a felony is not satisfied until all the terms of a felon’s sentence are completed in full,” the brief said. “This is true whether the uncompleted term at issue is a period of incarceration or a fine and regardless of why the term remains unsatisfied.”
Hinkle’s ruling in May established a way for the vast majority of the felons who have been banned from participating in elections to register and vote, based on their financial status at the time they were convicted and their voting rights were stripped.
Following that ruling, DeSantis made a rare move of asking the Atlanta-based appeals court to hold an “en banc,” or full court, hearing in the state’s challenge to Hinkle’s order. Three-judge panels almost always consider initial appeals.The state also asked the appellate court to fast track the case, which the court agreed to do. The 11th Circuit has not responded to the request for an en banc hearing.
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