Last week, a Florida judge handed down a preliminary injunction to place on hold a law that placed financial restrictions on felons before they could be restored their right to vote. In November 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed by constitutional amendment the right to restore voting rights to all formerly incarcerated felons once they complete their terms of their sentence. 65% of Florida voters approved of the ballot referendum, known as Amendment 4. The amendment did not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. The amendment would have allowed over 1 million new voters to the Florida rolls.
Before the amendment could fully take place as intended, the GOP took other restrictive measures. Restoring the right to vote to convicted released felons, apparently didn’t sit well with the Florida GOP. To counter what Florida voters intended, the majority GOP legislature put restrictions on felons’ right to register to vote. The legislature voted to require that ex-felons pay all fess and court fines before re-gaining the right to register and to vote. Many felons released from prison face enormous battles with finding employment. Even before their prison sentences, many incarcerated individuals had limited financial means. Although the Republican restrictions would allow an ex-felon to petition the court to waive the obligations, it placed the right to vote on those with the means to pay fines and costs.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit after Florida’s Governor approved SB 7066 into law with its prohibitive restrictions. A federal judge stated the restrictions were unconstitutional. Although the court’s ruling is limited to the 17 plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit, in theory, the state of Florida will need to change its payment policy.
The state of Florida has several options. Florida can appeal the injunctive ruling. Florida legislature could amend the law in its next session. Florida could await a trial on the case in April 2020—for a final ruling.
The Florida GOP law to amendment 4 amounted to the similar poll tax laws during the Jim Crow era. During the Jim Crow period in the south, many African Americans were prohibited from voting unless they paid any unreasonable amount of money. The U.S. Constitution’s 24th amendment did away with poll taxes—stating the right to vote could not be denied for failure to pay any poll tax or any other tax. Any monetary restriction on the right to vote amounts to a modern-day poll tax.
The national trend has been towards restoring voter rights to returning citizens.