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Judge calls Florida statute on felons and voting an illegal poll tax

On Behalf of | May 29, 2020 | Criminal Defense

A federal judge just ruled as unconstitutional parts of a law passed by Governor Ron DeSantis. As written, it states that felons in Florida be required to pay back all of their court fees and fines along with any restitution owed to their victims before they’re permitted to vote again. In fact, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle referred to the whole thing as a “pay-to-vote system” that amounted to nothing more than a poll tax on the poor.

Using a felony conviction to bar someone from voting has become increasingly controversial, especially in Florida where people have been trying to overturn the old rules for some time. Many people rightfully point out that the laws forbidding felons to vote are generally holdovers from segregation. They were often put in place to make it easier to disenfranchise African-Americans, as such laws tend to disproportionately affect people of color. 

Essentially, the judge’s ruling says that it’s legal for the state to make felons who can afford it pay up, but it’s illegal to penalize someone further simply because they can’t afford the bill from the state. That means that felons who were declared indigent and given public defenders and felons who had their fines and restitution converted to civil liens can now register to vote.

The odds are high that this battle isn’t over yet. The state is likely to appeal, especially since Florida is an important swing state in many national elections and — with about one million felons living in the state — the issue could be particularly significant come November.

The loss of your voting rights is just one of the many potential consequences of a criminal conviction. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida, get an experienced defense attorney in your corner.