Judge Robert Hinkle for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled on Oct. 18, 2019 that it is unconstitutional to deny individuals with past convictions the right to vote based on their inability to pay fines and fees.
In an op-ed published in the Orlando Sentinel, Campaign Legal Center’s Danielle Lang analyzes the recent decision handed down in Jones v DeSantis, and highlights the high stakes of such a landmark ruling, helping voters sift through the complicated decision.
“Here’s what we know. The order only applied specifically to the individual plaintiffs because they are the only people who have affirmatively demonstrated to the court (either in live testimony or signed affirmations) that they are unable to pay their outstanding fines and fees,” Lang says.
“And, at least for now, the district court held that only people who are unable to pay their legal financial obligations must be excused from [Florida’s new] requirement for voting.”
As for the up to hundreds of thousands of Floridians who are otherwise eligible to vote, but have outstanding legal debt they cannot pay? Lang explains that the state is in charge of creating a process for individuals to prove their inability to pay their fines and fees, and outlines the current guidelines Florida must follow when creating this process.
- The procedure must be timely.
- The procedure cannot be discretionary.
- The state cannot require community service hours in lieu of payment of legal debt before voting.
- Floridians cannot be required to risk prosecution in order to demonstrate inability to pay.
In 2018, Florida voters restored the right to vote to individuals with felony convictions. The legislature then enacted a law conditioning rights restoration on the payment of restitution, fines and fees. CLC represents Floridians Bonnie Raysor, Diane Sherrill and Lee Hoffman in challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Learn more about CLC’s litigation defending disenfranchised Floridians and CLC’s efforts to restore voting rights across the country. If you have a felony conviction and are unsure of your voting rights, please visit RestoreYourVote.org, CLC’s free public education tool.
This post was written by Sheely Edwards, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.