Critics say Florida law that requires former felons to clear financial hurdles before they can vote is unconstitutional
Tue 8 Oct 2019 01.00 EDT
A group of former prisoners in Florida are suing over what they call an attempt by Republicans to restrict democracy and undo a historic initiative restoring the right to vote to 1.4m previously incarcerated felons.
Last year, Floridians gave their approval to the initiative, known as amendment 4, one of the most influential voting rights amendments in state, if not national, history. Allowing ex-felons to cast a ballot has the potential to shift the balance of power in Florida, which has plumped narrowly for Republican candidates in recent major elections, by adding a significant population of voters back into the mix.
But voting rights advocates were not able to celebrate for long. Months after Governor Ron DeSantis gave his tepid approval to amendment 4, the state’s Republican legislature introduced a bill that would require the newly eligible population to pay every court fee, fine and lien they might have faced during and after their conviction in order to vote. Amendment 4 supporters called the new law a dangerous “poll tax” designed to disenfranchise voters of color. DeSantis signed the bill into law in the summer.
On Monday, the former felons, along with the ACLU and others, filed an injunction calling the new law unconstitutional. “The ability to vote [under this law] becomes based on your pocketbook, how much money you have,” said Melba Pearson, the legal director of the ACLU Florida chapter. “If you’re not able to pay fines or fees you would be prohibited from voting. That’s, quite frankly, wrong.”