TALLAHASSEE, FL — A federal judge has signaled he’ll find part of a Florida law restricting the voting rights of people with felony records unconstitutional. At the end of the trial Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle made it clear he intends to rule that Florida cannot force a person convicted of a felony to pay outstanding court debts in order to be eligible to vote.
Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which challenged the law, says it amounts to an illegal poll tax that the state wasn’t even prepared to enforce.
“This was a disorganized, convoluted, confusing system that the state was ill-equipped to implement or enforce in any effective way,” she states.
The State of Florida identified some 85,000 registered voters who might be ineligible to vote, despite the passage of Amendment Four, which ended the state’s lifetime ban on voting for most people with felony convictions.
The state acknowledged in court that it has yet to determine which voters have outstanding debts that would violate the new law.
Abudu says part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s claim focused on the intersection of race, class and gender of the estimated 774,000 people who were disenfranchised.
“We presented to the court facts — such as, you know, people with a criminal conviction have an unemployment rate that’s five times higher than the general population — that over 40% of black women who have had a criminal conviction are unemployed,” she states.
Lawyers for the state maintained that voters who approved Amendment Four wanted people with felony convictions to pay their debt to society fully before having voting rights restored.
Now, hundreds of thousands are awaiting a ruling that could allow them to participate in the upcoming presidential election.