Federal Court Judge declares Florida poll tax unconstitutional

“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands of voters who want their voices to be heard.”

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On Monday, a federal court blocked a Florida law, calling it unconstitutional, that would have been responsible for denying hundreds of thousands of voters from participating in the upcoming 2020 election. 

This federal law required people with serious criminal convictions to pay court fines and fees before being able to register to vote. 

“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for hundreds of thousands of voters who want their voices to be heard. This is a watershed moment in election law. States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay,” said Paul Smith, vice president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC). 

Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the United States District Court in Tallahassee believes this is similar to a poll tax and is discriminatory against felons who would not be able to pay those fines and fees. 

“The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” Judge Hinkle wrote. 

According to Common Dreams, nearly 774,000 citizens were denied the right to vote despite having completed their sentences because they owed legal financial obligations. Almost 80% of the people who have outstanding legal financial obligations in Florida owe at least $500 in legal fees, according to a study by the University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith, who testified at trial.

Back in 2018 Florida voters approved a measure known as Amendment 4, which gave most felons their right to vote back after they had served their time. The exception to this were those found guilty of murder and a felony sexual crime. The Republican-controlled Legislature then adopted a new restriction forcing felons to settle their financial obligation before being rewarded back their right to vote. 

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