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The ruling on Sunday May 24, 2020 by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle moves hundreds of thousands of felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole” one step closer to winning back their right to vote.
When the law was officially revised Florida 2018 state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a bill limiting the law only to those who have successfully paid their court-related debts.
DeSantis said the law was needed in order to clarify what the amendment meant by “all terms,” but critics charged that the measure amounted to a “poll tax.”
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle had this to say. “The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” wrote Hinkle, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, referring to the constitutional amendment that bans poll taxes.
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, he ordered.
Hinkle sided in this 125 page report with critics of the bill, saying it discriminates against those who cannot afford to pay.
The judge said the law is a violation of the 24th Amendment, which says the right to vote shall not be denied “by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”
Hinkle’s order requires state election officials to allow ex-felons to request an advisory opinion on how much they owe, placing the burden on state officials to seek that information from court systems. If there’s no response within three weeks the applicant should not be barred from registering to vote, the ruling said.
The ballot measure excluded those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.
Several Democratic counties created a “rocket docket” system designed to quickly move ex-felons through the process of getting fines and fees waived in order for them to be able to vote.
DeSantis can appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
A previous appeal failed when Hinkle’s initial injunction was upheld by a three-judge panel, and a request by DeSantis for the full court to hear the case was denied.
It was unclear, however, if the appeals process — which could reach the U.S. Supreme Court — would be fully completed before voting for the general election begins in October with early voting and mail-in ballots.
Maria Matthews, the director of the Division of Elections, said in court, “We don’t have anything final at this point” in terms of a plan for felon voting. “We’ve just been chatting about it.”
Hinkle had angrily told state officials in a March hearing, “If the state is not going to fix it, I will.”
This could represent the single largest increase in voters since the civil rights movement. Potentially adding 1.5 Million new voters in a battleground state that once decided the Presidency with 537 votes.