Eugene Williams

Eugene Williams was one of seven ex-felons who had their voting rights affirmed during a hearing last month at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE/TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS


A federal appeals court has scheduled oral arguments in a Florida voting-rights case that could open the door for hundreds of thousands of felons to cast ballots in this year’s elections.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is slated to hear the case on Aug. 18, the same day as Florida’s primary elections, according to an order posted on the court’s website this week.

The full Atlanta-based court will hear arguments after Gov. Ron DeSantis made the rare move of asking for what is known as an “en banc,” or full court, initial review of the state’s appeal of a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle.

Nearly all appeals are initially conducted by three-judge panels. The legal battle focuses on the constitutionality of a 2019 law, approved by Republican legislators and signed by DeSantis, aimed at carrying out a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored the voting rights of felons “who have completed all terms of their sentences, including parole and probation.”

Poll tax reference

The 2019 law requires felons who have completed their time in jail or prison to pay “legal financial obligations”- fines, fees, costs and restitution – associated with their convictions to be eligible to vote. Opponents have likened that requirement to a poll tax.

In May, Hinkle cemented a previous decision in which he ruled that the state cannot deny the right to vote to felons who are “genuinely unable to pay” their court-ordered debts.

Under the process crafted by the federal judge, hundreds of thousands of felons who have completed their prison or jail sentences would be able to register and vote.

But this month, the 11th Circuit granted DeSantis’ request to put a hold on Hinkle’s order until the appeal is finished. The court also agreed to speed up the case, but, under the law, felons who can’t afford to pay outstanding legal obligations won’t be able to vote in the primary elections.

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