The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Thursday to hear a case that could have allowed up to one million Florida felons to vote despite not paying court costs, fines and restitution owed as part of their cases.
Lawyers in the case argued on behalf of voter rights groups that the rule amounted to a “paywall” to vote and unconstitutionally prevented felons who had finished their prison sentences from voting.
The order was unsigned, but the vote was 6-3. In the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money.”
Poll taxes were outlawed decades ago because they discriminated against the poor, who could not afford to pay the tax.
Felons can vote if they don’t owe fines
But the nation’s high court did not see it that way, and ruled that the fines and fees were related to the felons’ punishment for their crimes, not to voting.
In most states, felons can vote after they have finished their sentences and probation, but Florida is one of 11 states that are more restrictive in reinstating felons’ rights to vote.
The Supreme Court case came about after a 2018 contitutional amendment to allow the felons to vote after completing their sentences, which was approved with 64% of the vote.
Proponents of the amendment argue that most felons can’t afford to pay what they owe.
Toeing the line
If the 600,000 to one million felons are suddenly allowed to vote in Florida, what might the impact be? It is impossible to know how many will actually register, and which way their votes will go.
If current trends are any indication, however, slightly more than 10% of the felons that are actually eligible have registered to vote so far, according to USA Today.
If the majority of felons vote Democrat, that is tens of thousands of new Democrat voters, at the least. No wonder they are fighting so hard for the change.
It makes me a little uncomfortable to think that anyone would do anything to stop someone from voting for political reasons, like benefitting their own party, but at the same time if the rule is that the felon has to pay their entire debt to society before being allowed back on the voter rolls, that does make a certain amount of sense.