A voting rights organization in Florida has filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis and dozens of election officials, accusing them of a “climate of intimidation.”
Filed in federal court Wednesday, the lawsuit from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition claims that the DeSantis administration discriminated against felons legally eligible to vote by purposefully not fulfilling Amendment 4 of the state constitution.
Passed in 2018 after earning an overwhelming 65 percent of votes, the amendment restored voting rights to some convicted felons — an estimated 1.4 million people. The passage was considered a victory among civil rights groups, as the laws barring felons from voting stemmed from post Civil War-era restrictions designed to keep Black Americans from voting.
After the amendment passed, DeSantis signed a law that requires felons to pay back all fines and fees before they can restore their voting rights. However, there is no central statewide database to determine how much one owes, leaving many unsure of whether or not they are eligible to vote.
“Florida has failed to realize the promise of Amendment 4. Since the Amendment was passed in 2018, the Defendants have created and perpetuated a bureaucratic morass that prevents people with prior felony convictions from voting or even determining whether they are eligible to vote,” the suit reads.
The suit says that “this is not simply the result of administrative failures or bureaucratic ineptitude. Rather, the record reveals a years’ long campaign of acts and omissions by the Defendants that have thwarted the aspirations of the citizens of Florida who enacted Amendment 4, and the aspirations of those whose rights it restored."
Alongside creating several legal barriers, DeSantis also formed an "election police" unit in 2022 to investigate illegal voting. The lawsuit says that the unit targeted those protected by Amendment 4, arresting several who attempted to vote after being issued voter ID cards by the state. DeSantis subsequently bragged about the arrests in a news conference.
“This effort, coupled with the earlier-created roadblocks to registration, has turned the simple act of voting into a complicated and risky venture in the eyes of those who were re-enfranchised by Amendment 4, as well as others who have been affected by the Defendants’ conduct,” it reads.
The lawsuit asks the courts to order the state “to establish a reliable statewide database that allows people with prior felony convictions” to determine if they are eligible to vote.