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Court Rules Felons Must Pay All Fines And Fees Before Voting

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Mike Stewart
This July 21, 2012 photo, shows the exterior of the U.S. Courthouse for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Florida felons must pay off all legal financial oblations before registering to vote. The U.S. 11th District Court of Appeals handed down that ruling Friday. The decision comes after a lower court found the fees and fines were essentially a poll tax—violating the 24th amendment

Sean Morales-Doyle an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice, says the decision hurts both felons and Florida voters.

"I think the decision undermines the will of Florida voters who obviously wanted to restore voting rights to people, not to deny the vast majority of people the right to vote, which is what this decision does," said Morales-Doyle.

More than 750,000 felons have completed their sentences except for paying off their fines, fees, and restitution. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which helped craft the 2018 amendment, has started a fund to raise money for the legal financial obligations. But founder Desmond Meade says the price tag is insurmountable.

"If you were to collectively add all those fines and fees and restitution and court costs together it would amount to in the billions of dollars," said Meade.

The Miami Dolphins donated $100,000 to the effort and they aren’t alone. Celebrities including LeBron James and Michael Jordan have helped foot the bill for many felons across the state.

Whether the plaintiffs will appeal to the United States Supreme Court is still under discussion. For now, Morales says the focus is on felon voter outreach.

"There are people who owe smaller amounts of money, or people who owe no money, and there’s work to be done to make sure that those folks get registered and get voting before November," said Morales-Doyle.

The state has spent more than $1.7 million to fight the case in court. More than 60% of Floridians voted in 2018 to allow returning citizens to cast a ballot.