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Federal judge rules Florida cannot bar felons from voting due to outstanding court fees

By Daniel Uria   |   Oct. 20, 2019 at 12:31 PM
A federal judge ruled Florida can not prevent former felons from voting because they are unable to pay court-ordered fines and fees. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI

Oct. 20 (UPI) -- A federal judge temporarily blocked a Florida law preventing former felons from voting if they are unable to pay court-ordered fines and fees.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the state can request that the fines be paid, but cannot bar anyone from voting if they are unable to pay.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Brenan Center for Justice on behalf of 10 individuals, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the Orange County Branch of the NAACP.

Hinkle's ruling on Friday applies only to the plaintiffs in the case, but the court held that the state must provide a quick and efficient process for other felons who are unable to pay their legal financial obligations.

The Florida Supreme Court will also hear a different lawsuit on the issue in November when local elections will take place throughout the state.

"When an eligible citizen misses an opportunity to vote, the opportunity is gone forever; the vote cannot later be cast," he wrote. "So when the state wrongly prevents an eligible citizen from voting, the harm is irreparable."

Florida voted in 2018 to approve a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million people who were convicted of felonies.

In June, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law stating that only felons who had paid all fines, fees and restitution could register to vote, impacting as many as 800,000 people, according to voting advocates.

"Today's ruling affirms the governor's consistent position that convicted felons should be held responsible for paying applicable restitution, fees and fines while also recognizing the need to provide an avenue for individuals unable to pay back their debts as a result of true financial hardship," DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre said of Hinkle's decision.

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