Published on: Friday, September 11, 2020

The 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that Florida can now order people with past felony convictions to fully pay off their fines before they will be allowed to register to vote, effectively disenfranchising thousands of the state's low-income residents, decision available here. The appellate court decision overruled a federal district judge’s decision four months ago that found it was akin to an unconstitutional poll tax for Florida to require that people with serious criminal convictions pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote. The appellate court’s 6-4 ruling dealt a significant blow to civil rights groups that have fought to expand the voter rolls with hundreds of thousands of people who had completed prison time and parole for felony convictions.

In a dissent, opposing judges wrote: "Though the majority says a 'substantial number' of felons being unable to pay [legal financial obligations] does not make the scheme irrational, see Maj. Op. at 30, the district court found that 'the overwhelming majority of felons who have not paid their [legal financial obligations] in full, but who are otherwise eligible to vote, are genuinely unable to pay[.]'"

"How can a system that seeks to encourage felons to pay [legal financial obligations] be rational if the vast majority are simply unable to pay?"

The ruling stems from a 2018 Florida constitutional amendment, which saw the state's voters overwhelmingly approve re-enfranchising people with past felony convictions, additional information available here.