Florida Spent $1.7 Million, and Counting, to Impede Felon Voting Rights
In November 2018, Florida voters overwhelming approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to felons, except those convicted of murder and sex offenses, “after they complete all terms of their sentences including parole and probation.”
Florida’s Republican Legislature responded to that public mandate by passing SB 7066. That law required felons to pay all court ordered fines, fees, costs and restitution associated with their convictions to be eligible to vote.
Legislators “knew going into the  legislative session that they were going to be sued for it,” said Leah Aden of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized $2.34 million in contracts with private law firms to represent the State in defending against that litigation, which resulted in a September 11, 2020, en banc decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that reversed the district court’s judgment that found SB 7066 was an unconstitutional poll tax. 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 28851. [See PLN, October 2020, p. 46.]
A week before DeSantis signed SB 7066 into law, the Florida Department of State (DOS) entered into an $800,000 contract with the Hopping Green & Sams law firm “to provide litigation services in matters concerning the implementation of Amendment 4 and SB 7066.”
Less than a month later, DOS signed a $1.275 million contract with Holland & Knight “to provide litigation services and assistance with expedited discovery” in the voting rights litigation.
As of August 2020, Hopping Green & Sams was paid $572,135.65. Florida’s Department of Financial Services website also showed Holland & Knight was paid $1.1 million by August. The amount of costs incurred by taxpayers for executive branch staff-related costs and fees is unknown.
With the Eleventh Circuit’s September ruling, the only litigation possibility that remained was to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I do think the governor will spend whatever it takes to prevent people from voting,” said Howard Simon, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “But if he’s going to prevent people from voting because they owe money, boy it would be nice if he spent a little bit of money creating some system telling people how much they have to pay.”