Florida Rights Restoration Coalition files a federal lawsuit concerning the state’s implementation of a 2018 amendment to restore voting rights to people with prior felony convictions

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), which sponsored the voter-approved Amendment 4 in 2018, filed litigation in federal court on July 19, 2023, alleging that the state’s implementation of the amendment is preventing eligible voters from voting and intimidating voters. FRRC stated that the state’s implementation is unconstitutional and illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

Florida Amendment 4 was designed to automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation. It was approved with 64.55% in favor and 35.45% opposed.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R), Secretary of Corrections Ricky Dixon, supervisors of elections, and county clerks.

The FRRC said that the state government has failed to implement Amendment 4 as designed. Prior to Amendment 4, Florida was one of three states in the nation to permanently disenfranchise individuals with felony convictions. The amendment was designed to be self-executing without the need for further implementing legislation.

In 2019, Gov. DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7066, which required convicted felons to complete their sentences, including payment of restitution, fines, fees, or costs resulting from the conviction, before people could regain the right to vote. Lawsuits were filed against Senate Bill 7066, in which plaintiffs argued that requiring payment of fines and fees before being able to vote was unconstitutional.

In 2020, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can require former felons to pay all fines and fees before regaining the right to vote. The court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show that their constitutional rights were violated. The court wrote in its ruling, “The felons complain that it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the facts that determine eligibility to vote under Amendment 4 and Senate Bill 7066 … States are constitutionally entitled to set legitimate voter qualifications through laws of general application and to require voters to comply with those laws through their own efforts. So long as a State provides adequate procedures to challenge individual determinations of ineligibility—as Florida does—due process requires nothing more.”

Discussing the new lawsuit, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said, “When Amendment 4 passed, it was estimated that more than 1.4 million Floridians — almost 7% of the state’s population — would have their voting rights restored, representing the largest mass enfranchisement of voters in the U.S. in decades. However, as alleged in the complaint, Florida election officials have failed to uphold their legal responsibilities by: providing inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information to potential voters who try to determine their voting eligibility; creating a byzantine process in which voter eligibility is determined by varying local practices depending on where the potential voter lives; and, since 2022, creating, publicizing, and deploying an ‘election police’ unit designed to arrest people for having voted, including some people encouraged to register to vote and provided a voter ID by Florida election officials.”

The lawsuit asks the court to address the alleged violations of voting rights and order state officials to create a database for former felons to determine their voting status. The complaint also requests that the court appoint a monitor to oversee and coordinate the state’s compliance with court-ordered remedies.