October 21, 2019
Categories: Voting Rights

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against SB 7066, a new state law that requires the payment of all court-ordered restitution, fines and fees before people with felony convictions are allowed to vote. Civil rights lawyers filed suit against the state on behalf of 17 plaintiffs, claiming that SB 7066 is an unconstitutional poll tax that undermines the intent of Florida voters when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4.

Florida currently has no centralized system that can show whether or not an individual has paid back all of their financial obligations or even how much is owed. Plaintiffs’ lawyers presented examples where individuals have records with conflicting amounts of money on them and other cases where the county couldn’t produce any records before a certain year. Lawyers argued that the new law discourages people who would like to vote but are fearful of breaking the law if fees from some long-ago case were later discovered.

US District Judge Robert Hinkle said the state can investigate whether a person’s claim of inability to pay monetary costs is legitimate and can establish a process for whether and how a person’s rights should be restored. But “what the state cannot do,” he wrote, “is deny the right to vote to a felon who would be allowed to vote but for the failure to pay amounts the felon has been genuinely unable to pay…The preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to any such plaintiff.”

Judge Hinkle is postponing a final decision until the conclusion of the federal trial centering the law, which is scheduled to begin in April 2020.

Source: The Sentencing Project