A lawsuit over felon voting rights rules in Florida is dropped

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Sign outside early vote location in West Tampa. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (October 2012).

©2024 The News Service of Florida

Plaintiffs have dropped a federal lawsuit challenging how the state carried out a 2018 constitutional amendment aimed at restoring voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences.

The lawsuit, filed in July by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and individual plaintiffs, described a “bureaucratic morass” encountered by felons trying to find out if they were eligible to vote.

State and local election officials asked Chief U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to dismiss the case, which was filed in Miami.

The parties engaged in mediation on May 6. Florida Department of State officials on Friday published an announcement saying they intend to hold a rule-development workshop to update the process for felons to seek what are known as advisory opinions about their voting eligibility.

The yet-to-be-developed rules “may render plaintiffs’ claims moot,” mediator Michael Hanzman wrote in a report filed Monday.

“Plaintiffs have therefore decided to voluntarily dismiss their case without prejudice and may re-file their case if the rulemaking, or subsequent implementation of any adopted rule, fails to alleviate their concerns,” he added.

The workshop. slated for June 11 in Tallahassee, also will address “creating a form for felon advisory opinions,” according to the announcement.

Confusion about eligibility stems from a controversial 2019 law that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved to carry out the constitutional amendment, which said voting rights would be restored “upon completion of all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”

The 2019 law required felons to pay “legal financial obligations” — fees, fines and other court costs — associated with their convictions before they could be eligible to vote.

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that the lawsuit “resulted in action that we hope will provide a better process for people to engage,” noting that the group left open the possibility of reviving the case.

Lawmakers at DeSantis’ behest in 2022 created the Office of Elections Crimes and Security. Since then, more than two dozen people have been arrested for voting illegally.

Many of the people who were arrested maintained that they were convicted felons who believed they were eligible to vote and were provided voter registration cards by elections officials.

“We’re focused on rolling up our sleeves and getting to work to try and make sure that these next steps can be helpful, so that we don’t see folks getting arrested, and we see people engaging in self-government and living up to the promise of Amendment 4,” Volz said.

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