A Florida law requiring felons to pay legal fees as part of their sentences before regaining the vote is unconstitutional for those unable to pay, or unable to find out how much they owe, a federal judge ruled Sunday. The 125-page ruling was issued by US District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee, reports the AP. It involves a state law to implement a 2016 ballot measure approved by voters to automatically restore the right to vote for many felons who have completed their sentence. The Republican-led Legislature stipulated that fines and legal fees must be paid as part of the sentence, in addition to serving any prison time.
Hinkle has acknowledged he is unlikely to have the last word in the case, expecting the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to appeal.
The case could have deep ramifications in the electoral battleground given that Florida has an estimated 774,000 disenfranchised felons who are barred because of financial obligations. Many of those felons are African Americans and presumably Democrats, though it's unclear how that group of Floridians overall would lean politically in an election and how many would vote. The judge called the Florida rules a “pay to vote” system that are unconstitutional when applied to felons “who are otherwise eligible to vote but are genuinely unable to pay the required amount.” “This is a tremendous victory for voting rights,” said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This ruling means hundreds of thousands of Floridians will be able to rejoin the electorate.” Convicted murderers and rapists are permanently barred from voting regardless of financial obligations.
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