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Voter Issues in Florida



Florida: The new conservative majority on Florida's Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion on Thursday validating the modern-day poll tax Republicans passed last year by requiring citizens who've served their felony sentences to also pay off all court-related fines or fees before they can regain their voting rights. The justices concluded that such financial obligations were part of the terms of felony sentences under the new voter-approved constitutional amendment, even though the amendment's ballot summary made no mention of these obligations.

The 2018 constitutional amendment that nearly two-thirds of voters approved was supposed to restore voting rights to up to 1.4 million citizens, but the GOP's poll tax could negatively affect up to 1.1 million of those individuals by imposing a financial barrier that many of them will never be able to overcome. However, a federal district court in a separate suit temporarily blocked most of the requirement for the specific plaintiffs in that case late last year, which was partly stayed while the GOP's appeal is still pending. The plaintiffs are asking the district court to expand the ruling to all individuals affected by the poll tax.

While that federal case stands a chance of blocking the poll tax, such a ruling could prove a double-edged sword for voting rights advocates. That's because the court's conservative majority may deem the payment of court fines and fees to be "non-severable" from the rest of the voting rights restoration amendment.

In other words, if the federal courts invalidate the poll tax, Florida's Supreme Court could strike down the rest of the amendment by holding that the surviving provisions can't be separated from the financial penalty. Such a ruling would effectively overturn the rights restoration amendment entirely, leaving Florida to once again impose a lifetime ban on voting for any felony conviction.

That outcome would be a devastating blow to voting rights and mark a vicious cycle of voter suppression intended to thwart voters of color and Democrats. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—who called voting a "privilege" and not a right in response to the opinion—likely would not have won in 2018 but for the fact that lifetime felony disenfranchisement disproportionately prevents black citizens from voting. Yet precisely because of that victory, DeSantis and his fellow Republicans were able to pass their poll tax in order to keep up to a million citizens from voting.

• Florida: A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a new voter ID bill that would require the address on a voter's ID to exactly match the address where they're registered.

This requirement appears targeted at college student voters who want to vote at school, since they would be more likely to have a valid driver's license listing their home address instead, along with low-income voters, who are more likely to be renters and thus more frequently move than higher-income voters do. Both students and low-income voters lean Democratic, so this restriction risks suppressing their votes, which is likely the goal of this legislation.

ATLANTA (CN) — The 11th Circuit upheld a federal ruling Friday afternoon, refusing to dismiss a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by a deaf rights advocacy group over Florida’s alleged refusal to provide captioning for live and archived video recordings of legislative proceedings.

In a 25-page ruling, the three-judge panel upheld a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in favor of the National Association of the Deaf, finding that the state’s failure to provide captioning for legislative proceedings violates deaf citizens’ fundamental right to participate in the democratic process.

The National Association of the Deaf and Eddie Sierra, a deaf Florida resident and disability rights activist, alleged in an April 2018 complaint that Florida’s refusal to provide closed captioning for videos of legislative proceedings in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.



Florida: As expected, Florida Republicans have appealed a federal court ruling striking down a 70-year-old law that requires the governor's party be listed first on the ballot, which the court said gives the incumbent's party an unfair advantage in violation of the Constitution.