Supreme Court leaves voting rights of some Floridians in limbo

The court did not overturn a lower court’s halt on voters convicted of felonies who had not paid off related fees.

Florida vote
The voting rights of some convicted of felonies in Florida remain in limbo [Elise Amendola/The Associated Press]

The United States Supreme Court has declined to overturn a temporary halt by a federal court that prevents Florida residents convicted of felonies from voting if they have not paid off all fines and fees related to their case.

Thursday’s decision further delays a resolution of the issue, which voting rights advocates say could threaten some voters’ ability to go to the polls in the November 3 national elections.

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hold a hearing on the case on August 18, the day of Florida’s primary, according to the Washington Post.

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Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision not to lift the temporary halt. 

“This court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor,” Sotomayor wrote, adding that the lower court’s decision “continues a trend of condoning disenfranchisement”.

‘Pay-to-vote’ system

Under US law, states, not the federal government, can decide if those convicted of felonies can vote and what stipulations apply to them.  

Those convicted of felonies in Florida, except for those convicted of sexual offences and murder, had been granted the right to vote in an amendment to the state’s constitution passed in 2018.

However, Governor Ron DeSantis, signing into law a bill that instated the amendment, also included a measure that required convicts to pay off all fines and fees related to their case and sentence before they can vote.

Before DeSantis and state officials appealed, federal Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in May that that measure was unconstitutional, saying it created a “pay-to-vote system” by requiring convicted individuals to pay court fees, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Hinkle also ruled that it was unconstitutional for a person who cannot afford to pay fines or restitution to be prevented from voting.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies