[States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based
on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights
restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to
pay.] [[link removed]]
FEDERAL JUDGE STRIKES DOWN RESTRICTIONS ON FLORIDA FELON VOTING
May 24, 2020
_ States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on
unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration
on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay. _
Voting location, Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Sunday dismantled Florida’s
restrictive felon voting rights law in a ruling that could open the
door to hundreds of thousands of new voters being added to rolls just
ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle declared key portions of the
state’s felon voting law unconstitutional, ordering the state to put
in place a new process that would help people register to vote in the
Throughout his 125-page ruling
Hinkle chided the state for a “pay-to-vote” system that he said
was Byzantine because, in some instances, former felons could not even
figure how much money they owed.
“This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as
unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was
convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense,” the
judge wrote. “A state may disenfranchise felons and impose
conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass
“Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one
falls short in substantial respects,” he said.
Hinkle’s ruling could lead to a major addition to the state’s
voting rolls just months before the election in the battleground
state. President Donald Trump, who narrowly won the state four years
ago, has made winning Florida a key part of his reelection strategy.
One study done by Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political
professor, found that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions
have some sort of outstanding legal financial obligation.
The decision comes nearly a year after the Republican-controlled
Florida Legislature passed the law that requires people with felony
convictions to pay all outstanding court debts in order be eligible to
vote. Legislators passed the bill after voters approved Amendment 4 to
the state constitution, which aimed to end the state’s lifetime ban
on voting for most ex-felons.
Hinkle’s ruling did not completely strike down the law, but the
judge asserted that requiring people with felony convictions to pay
off costs and fees violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on poll
He said these costs, which are separate from restitution paid to
victims or fines ordered by a court, amounted to a form of tax since
it was used to pay for administrative costs. Florida, he said, is also
not allowed to bar former felons from registering simply because they
can’t afford to pay any remaining fines and restitution.
“[T]axation without representation led a group of patriots to throw
lots of tea into a harbor when there were barely united colonies, let
alone a United States,” Hinkle wrote. “Before Amendment 4, no
state disenfranchised as large a portion of the electorate as
Hinkle did, however, reject arguments by the groups and individuals
who sued that the Florida’s law was discriminatory.
The ruling was immediately applauded by the long-line of groups that
were part of the legal challenge, which spanned three different
“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands
of voters who want their voices to be heard,” Paul Smith, vice
president of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “This
is a watershed moment in election law. States can no longer deny
people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees,
nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines
that a person cannot afford to pay.”
A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the law and
defended the legal challenge, did not immediately respond to a request