Election Law

Judge rules Florida felons can still vote despite inability to pay fees and fines

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A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the state can’t bar felons from voting because they are unable to pay fines and other costs.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee, Florida, issued a preliminary injunction in a ruling Friday, report the New York Times, the Miami Herald, Politico and HuffPost.

The injunction applies to 17 individual plaintiffs and permits them to show an inability to pay through an appropriate procedure.

Hinkle ruled in five consolidated cases arising from a voter-approved state constitutional amendment known as Amendment 4. The amendment, passed last November, restored voting rights to most people convicted of felonies after completion of all terms of their sentences, including parole or probation. (The amendment did not restore voting rights to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.)

After Amendment 4 was approved, the Florida legislature passed a law that said former felons couldn’t vote until they paid pay all fines, fees and other financial penalties associated with their convictions.

Hinkle said the plaintiffs are entitled to vote despite an inability to pay because of a statement in a footnote by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta in a 2005 decision, Johnson v. Governor of Florida. The decision upheld Florida’s general ban on voting by felons but noted that felons could apply for clemency for restoration of civil rights.

The footnote said Florida’s executive clemency rules don’t allow Florida to deny restoration of voting rights to a felon who can’t afford to pay restitution. “Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources,” the 11th Circuit said in the footnote.

The consolidated cases before Hinkle are titled Jones v. DeSantis. Plaintiffs in the consolidated cases are 17 individuals and three organizations—the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

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