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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

A federal appeals court handed Florida Gov. Rick Scott a decisive victory this week when it temporarily blocked a federal judge’s ruling that urged the state’s executive clemency board to overhaul its “fatally flawed” process of restoring felons’ voting rights by Thursday.

Why it matters: The order issued late Wednesday, which affects an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons, comes as reform advocates have been fighting to restore their voting rights for nearly two decades.

  • People with past felony convictions are permanently barred from voting, and they have to wait up to eight years to request Scott and the clemency board to consider restoring it.
  • Felony disenfranchisement laws affect about six million nationally, but Florida, which remains the most stringent, bans more people from voting than any other state.
Timeline:
  • September 2000: A federal class-action lawsuit against then-Gov. Jeb Bush, challenged the constitutionality of the ban, which plaintiffs said barred an estimated 600,000 people from voting. They argued that the prohibition dating back to 1868 was used to prevent newly enfranchised blacks from voting during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era.

April 2007: Then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist enacted clemency reforms that automatically restored voting rights to non-violent offenders. The new rules no longer required a hearing or petition, and the clemency board had 30 days to review and grant approvals. Crist (D), a U.S. Rep, wrote in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed last year that voting rights for 155,315 Floridians were restored in four years. An estimated 950,000 were disenfranchised.

March 2011: Scott unraveled the Crist-era clemency rules soon after taking office in 2011. He set a five-year minimum waiting period for nonviolent ex-felons and eight years for others. Those who were denied have to wait at least two years to re-apply.

  • Scott has only approved 3,008 applications since 2011, a spokesperson at the state’s Commission on Offender Review told Axios this week. Meanwhile, there's a backlog of more than 10,000 applications awaiting review.

January 2018: Organizers behind a November ballot measure announced that voters will decided whether to automatically restore voting rights for ex-felons, except for those convicted of murder or sex crimes. It needs at least 60% approval.

March 2018: A federal judge issued a scathing ruling that ordered the state to establish “robust and meaningful” new rules to determine when and how to restore ex-felons' voting rights. In February, the judge said the current "unconstitutional" process unfairly relies on the personal support of Scott.

April 2018: Facing a looming deadline, Scott called an emergency late-night meeting Wednesday with board members to consider new rules. But it got cancelled after the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him and ruled he doesn't have to immediately overhaul the process. The suit to overturn the ban was filed in March of last year.

The big picture:

Felon voting rights restoration has the potential to shift the makeup of the country’s largest battleground, which plays a deciding role in presidential elections.

  • Observers said Democrats would largely benefit because the prohibition disproportionately affects African-Americans, a group that overwhelmingly votes Democratic. In Florida, per the Sentencing Project, more than 1 in 5 African-Americans are affected.

This story has been updated to reflect news developments.

Go deeper

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

3 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.