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Federal Judge Rules Florida Felons Can Register To Vote Without Paying Fines, Fees

Paper titled Felon Voting and a gavel
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Florida felons don’t have to repay fines, fees, and restitution before registering to vote. That’s according to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle. He issued his decision Sunday after hearing arguments earlier in the month over a 2019 law that implemented a 2018 constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to most felons in Florida.

The ruling could pave the way for hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated Floridians to vote in the upcoming elections.

In his ruling, Hinkle said the law is constitutional because, “the State of Florida has adopted a system under which nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens can vote only if they pay an amount of money. ... Many do not know, and some may not be able to find out, how much they must pay.”

Opponents of the law have labeled it a poll tax.

In a statement, the League of Women Voters of Florida praised the ruling, calling the lawsuit, “an argument that should not have taken place.”

“The voters were clear in 2018 when more than 64% of the electorate voted in favor of Amendment 4, which restored the constitutional right to vote to ex-felons not convicted of murder and felony sexual assault,” wrote Florida Chapter President Patricia Brigham. But after the passage of Amendment 4, the Florida Legislature, via SB 7066, sought to ensure that ex-felons, without the means to pay back all financial obligations, would essentially endure a lifetime ban on voting.

Hinkle’s ruling follows an injunction issued in October allowing 17 plaintiffs to vote.

The state has argued the legislature was following the intent of the amendment and bill sponsor, Rep. Jamie Grant (R-St. Petersburg) has previously pointed to testimony from the attorney of the amendment’s sponsors, Jon Mills, who stated before the Florida Supreme Court in 2017 that completion of a sentence included repaying fines, fees and restitution.

In his ruling, Hinkle noted the amendment said no such thing.

It was not immediately clear at the time of this reporting whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration would appeal.