Felons in Florida seeking to have voting rights restored must first complete all the terms of their criminal sentences, including payment of any fines, fees, court costs, and restitution, according to a 6-4 ruling handed down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday.
The case stems from a lawsuit challenging Florida’s Senate Bill 7044, which was the Florida state legislature’s attempt to set statewide legal standards for the re-enfranchisement of felon voting rights and consistent implementation of Amendment 4, passed by voters in 2018.
Shortly after the voters passed the amendment in November, Democrat election supervisors around the state began to register felon voters without first verifying that they had completed all the terms of their sentences. According to the Tallahassee Democrat:
…election supervisors throughout the state have taken the position that it is their constitutional duty to accept voter registrations from anyone who completes the form, and checks the box saying either they are not a felon or they have had their voting rights restored.
That brazen political stunt was then backed up by progressive activist groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who injected racial overtones into the issue by calling it a “poll tax,” attacking Republican lawmakers like then-State Representative Jamie Grant (featured image, above), who merely wanted to implement a statewide standard consistent with the ballot language.
Of note, the ACLU’s 2019 accusations that the bill amounted to a “poll tax” on their national website is in direct contradiction with the language proponents used during the 2018 campaign to get the ballot language approved by the state supreme court, and ultimately, by voters.
The ACLU’s own website contained a Frequently Asked Questions page that explicitly agreed with the language they now claim constitutes a “poll tax.” Here’s the exact wording of that page:
What does it mean to complete all portions of my sentence?
We believe that “completion of all terms of sentence” includes any period of incarceration, probation, parole and financial obligations imposed as part of an individual’s sentence. These financial obligations may include restitution, fines, and fees imposed as part of a sentence or a condition of probation under existing Florida statute.
Where is that page now? It’s gone. Deleted. The ACLU took it down at some point after the Orlando Sentinel embarrassed them with it by calling attention to their duplicity in a fact check.
For those who need rock-solid evidence, we provide a link to an archive of the page, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, which saved a snapshot on April 8th, 2019 (and as added insurance, here’s a PDF file containing a screencap, just in case the ACLU pressures the Wayback Machine to remove that link, too).
Amidst all these racially-charged “poll tax” claims, the lawsuit finally wound up before the Eleventh Circuit, where Chief Justice William Pryor issued the majority opinion, in which he made significant mention of one of the most important facts of the case:
The people of Florida approved a historic amendment to their state constitution to restore the voting rights of thousands of convicted felons. They imposed only one condition: before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their criminal sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution.
The court specifically examined the felons’ / ACLU / Democrat / plaintiffs claims that any requirement to pay fines, fees, costs and restitution amounted to a “poll tax,” which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively banned in 1966 in their ruling on Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.
Here’s what the 11th Circuit said about any comparison of Florida’s re-enfranchisement law with an illegal “poll tax:”
“The watered-down version of Harper that the felons would have us apply ignores the crucial distinction between poll taxes and Florida’s reenfranchisement law: poll taxes are never relevant to voter qualifications, but laws that require the completion of a criminal sentence are.”
Democrats like Andrew Gillum and their allies at the ACLU, who trade on racially-charged accusations that in attempting to create a statewide standard, Republicans were implementing a “poll tax,” will now have to take their arguments to the United States Supreme Court if they hope to regain that talking point.