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Voting rights advocates and Gov. Ron DeSantis are continuing their court battle over Florida's plans for restoring felons' voting rights.

Florida's fight over felon voting keeps intensifying

The courtroom tussle over when felons may vote in Florida has taken two fresh turns.

Advocates for voting rights and civil rights last week asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new law setting conditions on when former convicts can return to the polls — at least until their lawsuit is settled.

In response, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the same judge to dismiss the advocates' litigation, arguing their complaints should be weighed in state (not federal) court.

There are several reasons why the dispute over restoring the franchise to Floridians after they're released from prison has become one of the most closely watched voting rights cases of the decade, even becoming an issue in the presidential campaign.

Because Florida is the nation's most populous tossup state, any significant shift in the voter rolls (in this case, benefitting Democrats) could have decisive consequences. When the initial decision to restore felons' voting rights was made by 64 percent of voters in a referendum last fall, the result was hailed as signaling a cultural shift and also the power of ballot initiatives. And because the Republicans in Tallahassee have since moved to limit the sweep of the decision, the current state of affairs is especially polarized between the people and their government.

The Legislature passed a law this spring to implement the referendum, which restored voting to felons (except murderers or sexual felons) "who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation." But the law says completing the sentence will include paying all fines, fees and restitutions ordered by the court.

The lawsuit says those conditions amount to the sort of poll tax that's out of bounds under the U.S. Constitution. But the governor says the dispute should be refereed using Florida's constitution.

Fewer than one in five of the state's 1.4 million released felons have repaid all of their outstanding financial obligations, the plaintiffs say.

Some Floridians affected by the amendment have already registered to vote and cast ballots in municipal elections since the law took effect in January, the lawyers argued in a brief with U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, so adding the state law requirements now would sow confusion.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

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Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

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