Judge strikes down law requiring Florida felons to pay outstanding fees before voting

A federal judge in Florida just made it easier for felons in the state to vote.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle shot down a Republican-backed law requiring felons to pay all court fees before regaining the right to vote, the Washington Examiner reported, setting the stage for potentially hundreds of thousands of felons to participate in November’s elections.

Judge voids voting rule

Floridians voted in the 2018 midterm elections to approve a ballot initiative restoring voting rights for felons, with the exception of murderers and sex offenders, in what was expected to be a boon for Democrats in a major battleground state.

However, as Reuters reported, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in June a Republican bill requiring felons to pay all court and legal fees as part of their punishment before regaining their right to vote, and civil liberties groups immediately challenged it as discriminatory, according to Axios.

On Sunday, Judge Hinkle ruled that the statute is unconstitutional under the Twenty-fourth Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes.

The judge ordered that those who are unable to pay — or unable to find out how much they owe — must be allowed to vote, likening Florida’s law to an unconstitutional “pay to vote” scheme. The government must tell felons what they owe, and if that information is not provided within three weeks of a request, then felons must be automatically registered to vote, the judge stated.

“The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” Hinkle wrote, according to the Examiner. “And because the Supreme Court has held, in effect, that what the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prescribes for federal elections, the Equal Protection Clause requires for state elections, Florida also cannot condition voting in state elections on payment of these fees and costs.”

Trump prospects in danger?

If the ruling holds, nearly 800,000 felons in the state who are unable to pay their fees could soon regain the right to vote, according to the Associated Press.

That could make a significant difference in Florida, a battleground state that Donald Trump won narrowly in 2016.

Polls show former Vice President Joe Biden currently enjoying a slight advantage in the state.

Democrats liken rules such as Florida’s to a form of “voter suppression” that seeks to give Republicans an advantage by limiting the electorate, but Republicans generally argue that voter fraud is a bigger problem and that felons should be barred from voting.

The left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, for its part, hailed Judge Hinkle’s decision as a “tremendous victory for voting rights,” according to the AP.

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