Federal judge rules felons cannot be stopped from voting due to fees

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle will allow the formerly incarcerated to participate in the presidential election in November

An inmate at the votes in the election after a polling place in the facility was opened for early voting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An exciting new ruling out of Florida is a victory for voting rights.

According to a report in The Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle has ruled that Floridians who have been convicted of felonies can register to vote and participate in the upcoming November election, even if they have not paid off all fines and fees. 

READ MORE: Federal trial opens over Florida’s felon voting law

Voters in the state chose overwhelmingly to restore voting rights to felons who had completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole” in 2018. However, Republican leaders and the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, said that amendment was ambiguous and added requirements that all fines, fees, and restitution must be paid first. 

Floridians Polls theGrio.com

Residents of Miami-Dade cast their votes on electronic voting machines October 28, 2004 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The additional requirements meant that more than 1.5 million felons were barred from participating in the voting process. 

The court ruled that the “Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs.” Hinkle compared the state’s law to a poll tax. An additional complication to the ruling is that the state has not provided people with the tools or resources they need to calculate how much they either owe or have already paid.

Voter rights advocates have stated that without being able to determine whether they still owed fines, fees, or restitution, voter applicants could have been charged with perjury.

READ MORE: GOP spending $20M on alleged voter suppression for the 2020 election

According to the report, Hinkle’s order requires the state to tell felons whether they are eligible to vote and what they owe. It also requires the state to allow any felon to register if they are not given an answer within 21 days. No one will face perjury charges for registering and voting through this process. 

Julie Ebenstein, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who litigated the case, said: “The court recognized that conditioning a person’s right to vote on their ability to pay is unconstitutional. This ruling means hundreds of thousands of Floridians will be able to rejoin the electorate and participate in upcoming elections. This is a tremendous victory for voting rights.”