Judge rules Florida can’t block ex-felons from voting over outstanding fees

A federal judge ruled that Florida can not block any former felons from voting due to outstanding fees, extending a previous ruling from October that only applied to the plaintiffs. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI

April 8 (UPI) — A federal judge issued an order ruling all former felons in the state must be allowed to vote despite outstanding court fees.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Tuesday issued the order extending a ruling he made in October restoring voting rights to a handful of plaintiffs after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature failed to provide a quick and efficient process for other felons who are unable to pay their legal financial obligations.

“Many thousands of felons are unable to pay their relevant financial obligations because of indigency,” Hinkle said. “Still others are unable to pay because the amount owed is out of reach even for a person who is not indigent.”

Florida voted in 2018 to approve a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million people who were convicted of felonies. However, DeSantis then signed a law stating that only felons who had paid all fines, fees and restitution could register to vote.

Hinkle’s initial ruling ordered that the state can request that the fines be paid but cannot bar anyone from voting if they are unable to pay. However, it only applied to the plaintiffs.

The state appealed that decision, which was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Desmond Meade described the decision to extend the ruling as a major victory.

“The decision by the court to certify this case as a class action lawsuit is a big deal because it drastically expands the number of people who can get immediate relief from 17 to hundreds of thousands,” said Meade. “We are pleased that the court appears to be consistent in placing people over politics and that’s the approach that we have maintained since the start of our Amendment 4 campaign.”


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