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Judge strikes down Florida law requiring felons to pay fines in order to vote

Court in Tallahassee ruled requirement amounted to an illegal 'pay-to-vote' scheme.

Updated: May 24, 2020 - 9:13pm

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A federal judge ruled Sunday that Florida's law allowing felons to vote if they paid all outstanding fines amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax and ordered state officials to devise a new solution.

"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," U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee wrote.

"A state may disenfranchise felons and impose conditions on their re-enfranchisement. But the conditions must pass constitutional scrutiny. Whatever might be said of a rationally constructed system, this one falls short in substantial respects," Hinkle added.

You can read the ruling here.

The judge rejected arguments that state Constitutional Amendment Four, passed by voters in 2018 to end the state's voting ban for felons, discriminated against minorities, who are a majority of felons in the state with unpaid penalties. But he ruled the subsequent law passed by Florida's legislature tat imposed the paid-fines requirement amounted to an illegal election tax prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

"Taxation without representation led a group of patriots to throw lots of tea into a harbor when there were barely united colonies, let alone a United States,” Hinkle wrote. “Before Amendment 4, no state disenfranchised as large a portion of the electorate as Florida."

The ruling leaves Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with two options: appeal to the appellate and Supreme Court levels or devise a new system.

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