ORLANDO, Fla. — Thousands of convicted felons will be eligible to vote in Florida after a federal court ruled Sunday that a law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting is unconstitutional.
The law, SB 7066, required people with past convictions to pay all outstanding legal fees, costs, fines and restitution before regaining their right to vote.
The law undermined Amendment 4, which voters passed in 2018. It restored the constitutional right to vote for ex-felons not convicted of murder or sexual assault.
However, language requiring felons to complete all terms of service led to the bill.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle found that conditioning voting on payment of legal financial obligations a person is unable to pay violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by discriminating on the basis of wealth.
He said that requiring the payment of costs and fees violates the 24th Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes and violates the National Voter Registration Act.
“This is a historic win for voting rights. Judge Hinkle told the state of Florida what the rest of America already knows. You can’t make wealth a prerequisite for voting. This ruling opens the way for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to exercise their fundamental right to vote this November and our democracy will be stronger for their participation," said Sean Morales-Doyle, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Marsha Ellision, who represents the NAACP Florida state conference, said the right to vote “should not be contingent upon your ability to pay.”
“We believe then and we believe now that, once a citizen has paid his debt to society, they should be able to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice,” she said.
Ellision said there are hundreds of thousands of ex-felons who are hoping for the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election.
“It could very well be significant, because elections have been won or lost by a very small margin,” she said. “So with an estimated 1.4 million returning citizens eligible to cast their votes, I suspect those numbers to be significant for those who are registering.”
If the governor appeals the decision, it could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is unclear if the process would be completed before the upcoming presidential election.
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