ACLU threatens lawsuit after Florida GOP tries to delay implementing voting rights ballot initiative
In an ominous development for the fate of Florida’s newly approved ballot measure to restore voting rights to those who’ve completed felony sentences, Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis recently signaled he won’t faithfully comply with the spirit of the amendment. DeSantis claims the law won’t go into effect until after the GOP-run legislature passes “implementing language” in the legislative session coming up in March.
However, as the ACLU and other supporters have argued, the amendment’s language should be self-executing on Jan. 8 and automatically restore voting rights to 1.4 million citizens who have served their sentences for felonies (excluding murder and sex crimes). Delaying the automatic restoration of rights until some time later this year could unconstitutionally disenfranchise voters in upcoming local elections, like the race for Tampa mayor in March.
Furthermore, “implementing” legislation could give Republican opponents of the amendment—including DeSantis himself, as well as state Senate leader Bill Galvano—an excuse to undermine the law’s intent by adding further restrictions, like requiring the repayment of all court-related fines and fees. Such a requirement would effectively function as a poll tax that would continue to deprive many of their voting rights long after they served out their sentences.
The ACLU’s response to the news strongly suggests the organization will sue to force DeSantis and Florida officials to stop stalling and automatically restore voting rights. However, they may not get a welcome reception if their case ultimately makes it to Florida’s Supreme Court, which seems a probable endgame. That’s because DeSantis will get to appoint replacements for three liberal-leaning justices who face mandatory retirement just hours after he’s sworn in as governor, which will flip the court to a six-to-one conservative majority. That’s no guarantee a lawsuit will fail, but things remain very much in limbo.