In a major move, a federal judge expanded Tuesday a previous order he issued against Florida limiting its ability to enforce its so-called “poll tax” ex-felon voting law.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s new order bars Florida from blocking any otherwise eligible ex-felon from voting because she has financial obligations from her sentence that she is unable to pay. The initial preliminary injunction Hinkle had imposed in the case had only covered the 17 individual plaintiffs who had challenged the 2019 GOP law.
Tuesday’s order is the latest in a series of setbacks for the state, which passed the law after Florida voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment restoring the voting rights of ex-felons. The law passed by Florida’s GOP legislature months later severely undermined that amendment, which stood to restore the franchise to some 1.4 million Floridians. The GOP law required that ex-felons pay off all of their legal obligations — including administrative fees not related to their sentences — before their franchise is restored. An expert study commissioned by the challengers in the case concluded that only one-in-five ex-felons who would otherwise be eligible to vote had paid off all the fines and fees required by the GOP law.
Before Hinkle issued Tuesday’s order, Florida was dealt back-to-back defeats at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. First, a three-judge panel of the appellate court upheld Hinkle’s initial order that allowed the individual challengers who were unable to pay off their court fees to vote.
Then, the full appeals court denied Florida’s request that it review Hinkle’s order.
Hinkle will hold a full trial on the law later this month.