MIAMI: A Florida law that forced ex-convicts to pay back court fees, fines and restitution to regain the right to vote is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Sunday as he threw it out.
Florida is a swing state that is crucial to President Donald Trump’s hopes of winning re-election in November.
The ruling by Judge Robert Hinkle opens the way for potentially hundreds of thousands of ex-cons to vote in a state where presidential candidates tend to win by razor-thin margins.
In his ruling, Hinkle struck down key parts of a law passed last year by Republican lawmakers that forces ex-cons to settle all debts with the court to be able to register to vote.
This is difficult – if not impossible – for many ex-cons, who tend to be black or Latino, and poor.
The law creates a “pay to vote” system that affects nearly a million people, the judge said.
“The system is unconstitutional as applied to individuals who are otherwise eligible to vote but are genuinely unable to pay the required amount,” the judge wrote.
Republican governor Ron DeSantis can appeal the decision.
It came after a video conference trial stemming from a lawsuit filed by 17 ex-cons represented by human rights groups. The ruling is a blanket one that affects all the state’s ex-cons.
Florida’s so-called “returning citizens” won the unconditional right to vote in a referendum held in 2018 on a law called Amendment 4.
It aimed to correct a racist-era law from 150 years back that prevented ex-cons from voting, even after they had done their time. It was designed to keep blacks from voting.
Amendment 4 restored the right to vote for nearly one million people, except those convicted of murder or sex crimes.
But after its passage, DeSantis signed the now-overturned law that obliged ex-cons to pay all their backcourt fees and fines in order to be able to vote.