May 24, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge strikes down Florida law requiring felons to pay fines before voting

Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: oe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Sunday ruled that a Florida law requiring convicted felons to pay all court fines and fees before registering to vote is unconstitutional.

Why it matters: The ruling, which will likely be appealed by state Republicans, would clear the way for hundreds of thousands of ex-felons in Florida to register to vote ahead of November's election.

The big picture: Floridians approved a constitutional amendment in the 2018 midterm elections that would automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole," except for those convicted of murder or sex crimes.

  • Soon after the ballot vote, Republican lawmakers in Florida passed a bill that defines "all terms" to include all fines, fees and restitution connected to a conviction, arguing it was necessary to clarify the amendment.
  • A class action lawsuit quickly followed as activists argued that the law made it virtually impossible for ex-felons to vote due to financial reasons or because the state offered them no way to know what needed to be paid, per the Washington Post.

What they're saying: U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle likened the law to the poll tax banned by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, and ordered Florida to tell felons whether they are eligible to vote and what they owe.

Read the ruling.

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