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US Appeals Court Rules Indigent Felons Can Vote Without Paying Fines

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is seen, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Atlanta.
Andrea Smith
/
AP Photo

Indigent felons can’t be required to pay fines and fees left over from their sentence before they can register to vote, according to a ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld a lower court decision declaring a Florida law unconstitutional. 

The ruling only applies to the 17 plaintiffs in the Kelvin Jones v.  Governor of Florida case. It stems from implementing language for the 2018 constitutional amendment that allowed felons to have their voting rights back. The law requires that before a felon can register they must pay back restitution, fines, and fees. But voting rights advocates challenged the legislature's move, calling it a poll tax. So far courts have agreed. 

While the ruling only applies to the select plaintiffs in the case, Souther Poverty Law Center's Legal Director Nancy Abudu says it could set a pathway for how other felons who qualify as indigent could vote.

"The way that both the district court and the eleventh circuit outline their decision, I think it pretty clearly signals that anyone who is unable to afford their obligations cannot be denied the right to vote simply because they are poor," Abudu said.

Wednesday’s ruling means the plaintiffs are able to go forward and vote until further notice. Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief spoke about what the ruling means for other felons and what she sees as an attempt by the legislature to make sure citizens initiatives, like the felon voting rights initiative Amendment 4, don't make it on a ballot in the future.