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Florida's government sued for requiring felons to pay fees before getting their voting rights back


The law requiring these fees was signed in May

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups representing felons in the state of Florida are suing to prevent the state from requiring fees before their voting rights can be reinstated.

What's the background?

Last November, voters in Florida approved Amendment 4, a measure to restore voting rights to former felons, after they have finished their full sentences. The amendment did not apply to any felons who were convicted of "murder or sexual offenses."

The amendment on the ballot read:

This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

In May, Florida's state government passed a bill that added a caveat that prevents felons from regaining their voting privileges until all fees are paid, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed it into law.

These fees can be massive. The Tampa Bay Times gave an example of one felon who owed $110,000 in "court costs and restitution."

What happened now?

On Friday, several groups, including the ACLU, sued Florida's government to remove this stipulation. These groups argued that the fees were the equivalent to a poll tax. The 24th Amendment prevents any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote "by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

When he signed this law, DeSantis said that the "idea that paying restitution to someone is equivalent to a tax is totally wrong." He reasoned that the 24th Amendment would not apply in this case because "the only reason you're paying restitution is because you were convicted of a felony."

Although fees were not specifically mentioned in the measure that voters approved, DeSantis said that they were implied since the measure stated that felons would have to complete their sentences "and I think most people understand you can be sentenced to jail, probation, restitution if you harm someone. You can be sentenced with a fine."

But the ACLU disagrees.

"Over a million Floridians were supposed to reclaim their place in the democratic process, but some politicians clearly feel threatened by greater voter participation," said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, according to CNN. "They cannot legally affix a price tag to someone's right to vote."

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