Felons voting rights front and center at MLK Day march

Published: Jan. 20, 2020 at 4:23 PM EST
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

January 20, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Hundreds marched to the State Capitol Monday morning in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day.

The march comes days after the Florida Supreme Court ruled a voter approved constitutional amendment does require felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before getting their right to vote restored.

The march is an opportunity to recognize the achievements of late civil rights leader and also to highlight ongoing injustices.

Many in attendance, like State Representative Loranne Ausley, said the most pressing issue is the legal battle over the restoration of felons voting rights.

“Our legislature is making this impossible for some by requiring payment of all fines, fees and restitution,” said Ausley.

Lawmakers included the financial requirements when implementing Amendment 4 last year.

While the Supreme Court ruling upheld lawmakers decision to include the payment of financial obligations for voting rights restoration, civil rights activists like Adner Marcelin, President of the Tallahassee Branch of the NAACP, believe the fight isn’t over.

“We have to stand up and say that it's not right. Everybody deserves a second chance,” said Marcelin.

Former Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho is hopeful a challenge at the Federal level will strike down the financial requirements.

“Fortunately we do have federal courts which look at the constitutional issues, which the Florida Supreme Court chose not to address at all,” said Sancho.

But some like Representative Jamie Grant, who sponsored the initial Amendment 4 implementing bill, argue if financial obligations are part of the amendment, the whole amendment could be struck down.

“They have threatened the very existence of Amendment 4 because if in fact any financial obligation prior to the ability to vote for a felon is a violation of the 24th Amendment, then Amendment 4 on its face is a poll tax,” said Grant.

The case is set for trial in April.

The Federal Judge has asked the Florida Legislature to act to ensure anyone unable to pay their financial obligations can still vote.

It’s not clear how lawmakers intend to address the issue.