A judge has blocked Republican efforts to prevent people with past criminal convictions from voting in Florida. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote in a ruling, “What the State cannot do is deny the right to vote to a felon who would be allowed to vote but for the failure to pay amounts the felon has been genuinely unable to pay.”
When Floridians headed to the polls and voted overwhelmingly in support of a piece of legislation dubbed Amendment 4, it grabbed headlines across the nation. Florida’s voters restored the voting rights of over 1 million people who’d previously been disenfranchised by their criminal records.
However, the victory was short-lived. Thanks to the efforts of Republicans in the state, after the measure was passed they quickly positioned themselves to block the legislation from actually coming to fruition in its proper form.
Vox reported on how they went about doing this: “The Florida Legislature has passed a measure requiring people with felony records to pay all financial obligations from their sentencing or get these obligations excused by a judge before they can have their voting rights restored.”
What happened was described by many as essentially being a “poll tax.” The ACLU challenged the law in a lawsuit that “accused lawmakers of implementing an unconstitutional poll tax and urged a federal court to block the new law altogether.”
Many celebrated the federal judge’s decision to halt Republican interference. But while victorious, the process for those with records is “extensively arduous,” according to Slate. They explain:
”First, an individual must attempt to register with the county’s supervisor of elections. Second, the supervisor will register them and forward their application to the secretary of state, who’ll screen for felony convictions. Third, the secretary will notify the supervisor if the individual has ‘a disqualifying conviction.’ Fourth, the secretary will give the individual an opportunity to contest this disqualification. At that point, the would-be voter can ‘establish’ that ‘the reason for failing to pay any outstanding financial obligation was inability to pay.’ The individual, not the state, faces the burden of proof in demonstrating an inability to pay. Hinkle acknowledged that “carrying the burden will be difficult.”
Taking the entire process into consideration means that many formerly disenfranchised voters will have different experiences across the board should they choose to vote. Their experiences with the process will still largely be based on the resources they have at their disposal.
For Black Floridians that are overrepresented in Florida’s prison population, the implications of having these rights restored are huge. However, the barriers they still face to vote means that this latest development is likely a battle won - not the entire war.