In Detailed and Thoughtful Opinion, Federal Court Holds Florida Law Requiring Ex-Felons to Repay Fines Before Restoration of Voting Rights Unconstitutional for Those Who Cannot Afford to Pay and Those Who Cannot Know How Much They Owe

You can find the 125-page opinion at this link. Howard rounds up the news stories.

Among other things the court held that if the state of Florida cannot even tell former felons how much they owe to have their voting rights restored, it cannot condition voting on payment of an unknown amount.

From the introduction of the opinion:

The State of Florida has adopted a system under which nearly a million
otherwise-eligible citizens will be allowed to vote only if they pay an amount of money. Most of the citizens lack the financial resources to make the required payment. Many do not know, and some will not be able to find out, how much they must pay. For most, the required payment will consist only of charges the State imposed to fund government operations—taxes in substance though not in name.

The State is on pace to complete its initial screening of the citizens by 2026, or perhaps later, and only then will have an initial opinion about which citizens must pay, and how much they must pay, to be allowed to vote. In the meantime, year after year, federal and state elections will pass. The uncertainty will cause some citizens who are eligible to vote, even on the State’s own view of the law, not to vote, lest they risk criminal prosecution.

This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense. A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their reenfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny. Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has already
ruled, in affirming a preliminary injunction in this very case, that the State cannot condition voting on payment of an amount a person is genuinely unable to pay. See Jones v. Governor of Fla., 950 F.3d 795 (11th Cir. 2020). Now, after a full trial on the merits, the plaintiffs’ evidence has grown stronger. This order holds that the State can condition voting on payment of fines and restitution that a person is able to pay but cannot condition voting on payment of amounts a person is unable to pay or on payment of taxes, even those labeled fees or costs. This order puts in place administrative procedures that comport with the Constitution and are less burdensome, on both the State and the citizens, than those the State is currently using to administer the unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.

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