A federal judge in Florida on Sunday declared key portions of the state’s felon voting law unconstitutional in a ruling that could allow hundreds of thousands of new voters being added to the rolls just in time for the 2020 presidential election.
In a 125-page ruling, US District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, slammed the state’s “pay-to-vote” system which the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature passed nearly a year ago, which ended the state’s lifetime ban on voting for most ex-felons, but requires that they repay legal financial obligations first, according to Politico.
“This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense,” wrote Hinkle. “A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny.”
“Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects,” he added.
Hinkle’s ruling could lead to a major addition to the state’s voting rolls just months before the election in the battleground state. President Donald Trump, who narrowly won the state four years ago, has made winning Florida a key part of his reelection strategy.
One study done by Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political professor, found that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions have some sort of outstanding legal financial obligation. –Politico
Hinkle claims that requiring people with felony convictions to pay legal fees – which are separate from restitution or fines ordered by the court – before being allowed to vote violated the US Constitution’s ban on poll taxes.
“[T]axation without representation led a group of patriots to throw lots of tea into a harbor when there were barely united colonies, let alone a United States,” wrote Hinkle. “Before Amendment 4, no state disenfranchised as large a portion of the electorate as Florida.”
Hinkle did, however, reject arguments by the groups and individuals who sued that the Florida’s law was discriminatory.
The ruling was immediately applauded by the long-line of groups that were part of the legal challenge, which spanned three different lawsuits.
“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands of voters who want their voices to be heard,” Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “This is a watershed moment in election law. States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay.” –Politico