• Florida voters decided in 2018 to amend the state constitution to allow felons to vote once their sentences were satisfied
  • Disputes arose after Legislature sought to define what satisfying a sentence means
  • Florida is considered a must-win state by both Democrats and Republicans and has delivered razor-thin margins in the past

A federal appeals court Friday blocked a significant number of Florida felons from registering to, a move that could have an impact on the Nov. 3 general election. The decision comes just weeks before the state’s Oct. 5 deadline to register.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision,” Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a press statement. “Nobody should ever be denied their constitutional rights because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees.”

Felons still can petition the Clemency Board to have their voting rights restored.

Florida voters in 2018 overturned a state constitution prohibition against allowing felons to vote, approving an amendment to restore voting rights to those who had completed their sentences. Disputes arose when the Legislature sought last year to define what completion means, stipulating that in addition to time served, felons would have to satisfy all financial obligations. The amendment permanently bars those convicted of rape or murder from voting.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed a lower court order and agreed with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that all aspects of a sentence must be satisfied before voting rights can be returned. The decision puts a halt to the nation’s largest enfranchisement effort in a half century.

The court ruled the felons had failed “to prove a violation of the Constitution.” The court ruled fines and fees imposed at sentencing are not taxes, and, therefore, are not prohibited by the 24th Amendment.

“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,” the majority opinion said.

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Beverly Martin wrote the decision would create chaos since there is no mechanism to notify felons of their eligibility.

Florida is considered a must-win state for both Democrats and Republicans, and has delivered razor-thin margins in past contests. Democrats had hoped to gain support from an estimated 774,000 refranchised felons in the state.