Florida law requiring felons to pay fines before voting is unconstitutional, judge rules

A federal judge says felons who cannot afford to pay fines and fees associated with their cases but have served their time, will be allowed to vote this November.

The seismic ruling was handed down by US Federal Judge Robert Hinkle. He said the “pay-to-vote” system written by Florida’s legislature is unconstitutional and amounts to a poll tax.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren is applauding the 125-page opinion. Warren says the voters of Florida approved the measure to restore voting rights for thousands of felons in Florida and it’s fitting that vote is being upheld on a holiday honoring those who fought and died for the rights of Americans.

“The fact that it comes on Memorial Day weekend, a day that we honor the sacrifice that men and women have given to uphold those values, it’s a really fitting next step,” said Warren.  

Warren says the ruling should be a wake-up call for lawmakers.

“The judge called the law, and the legislature’s position on this, a breathtaking attack on the will of Florida voters and that should give everyone pause when a judge is calling out the legislature for trying to undermine the will of the voters,” explained Warren.  

Back in 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which restored felons’ rights to vote once they had completed their sentences. But then came a tough state law, with the backing of Governor DeSantis, blocking felons from voting if they didn’t pay all their fines and court costs.

Attorney Anthony Rickman understood what lawmakers were trying to do.

“Look, it’s unfair to restore these felons’ rights if this felon has restitution and they haven’t paid their debt to society,” Rickman said.

However, the federal judge’s decision says their debt to society should not include financial debt to the courts.

From the beginning Tampa Attorney Richard Harrison has been working to roll back Amendment 4. He is the executive director of Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy. He says don’t expect the fight to stop here.

“Judge Hinkle is not going to have the last word, we know that. I’m confident the state will appeal so that it will go to the 11th Circuit, potentially to the US Supreme Court,” said Harrison.  

An appeal will likely stall Amendment 4 for months and prevent countless Floridians from casting their votes this November.

“We created a big mess In Florida with Amendment 4,” explained Harrison. “We’ve been litigating over the mess for a couple of years and we still have a big mess even today and I don’t see it near the end of the big mess.”

The governor has not commented on the federal ruling but a spokesperson says he will weigh all of his legal options.