A judge in the US state of Florida on Friday partially blocked a law requiring felons pay their fines before registering to vote, a decision with potential ramifications for next year’s presidential election.
While the decision applies only to the 17 ex-convicts who filed the lawsuit, it also creates a path to registration for other ex-convicts who want to vote but are prevented from doing so by their debts.
“The State of Florida cannot deny restoration of a felon’s right to vote solely because the felon does not have the financial resources necessary to pay restitution,” federal judge Robert Hinkle wrote in his ruling.
The decision opens the doors for potentially hundreds of thousands of ex-felons, most of whom are black or Hispanic, to cast ballots in Florida, which is regarded as a swing state and expected to be hotly contested in the 2020 presidential election.
Hinkle’s decision calls for Florida to find a way for ex-convicts who can not afford to pay their fines, court fees, or restitution, to still be able to register to vote.
Last November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-convicts who had already served all terms of their sentence, and did not commit sex crimes or murder.
The Florida constitution had previously denied voting rights to ex-felons.
Following the amendment’s passage, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a measure requiring the payment of debts such as court fees before voting -- something critics say is impossible for many ex-convicts to do.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill in June, and the lawsuits were filed the same month.
“The court’s decision is clear: the right to vote cannot be denied to anyone based on their inability to pay,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The state must create a clear and unencumbered process that provides Florida’s returning citizens the ability to vote.”