ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida felons must pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before they can regain their right to vote, a federal appellate court ruled Friday.

What You Need To Know

Reversing a lower court judge's decision that gave Florida felons the right to vote regardless of outstanding legal obligations, the order from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was a disappointment to voting rights activists and could have national implications in November’s presidential election.

Under Amendment 4, felons who have completed their sentences would have voting rights restored. But the legal dispute arose after the Republican-controlled state Legislature in 2019 moved to define what it means to complete a sentence. In addition to time served, lawmakers stipulated that all legal financial obligations, including unpaid fines and restitution, would also have to be settled before a felon could be eligible to vote.

Amendment 4 permanently bars convicted murderers and rapists from voting, regardless of financial debts.

The ruling could influence the election outcome in November. Florida is considered a must-win state in President Donald’s Trump’s bid for re-election. Florida’s disenfranchised felons represent a significant bloc in a state well known for razor-thin election margins. Democrats had hopes of gaining support from thousands of former felons in Florida.

PODCAST: Amendment 4 Activist Desmond Meade

In our latest episode of Central Florida: Beyond the Soundbite, Desmond Meade talks about the fight to restoring voting rights to most nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences, and why it's not over.