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Disenfranchisement News: Judge Temporarily Blocks Florida Law Limiting Voting Rights

October 21, 2019
Federal judge issued preliminary injunction blocking Florida law, Iowa Governor continues to push to expand voting rights, and more in Disenfranchisement News.

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Florida Judge Temporarily Blocks Law Limiting Voting Rights

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against SB 7066, a new state law that requires the payment of all court-ordered restitution, fines and fees before people with felony convictions are allowed to vote. Civil rights lawyers filed suit against the state on behalf of 17 plaintiffs, claiming that SB 7066 is an unconstitutional poll tax that undermines the intent of Florida voters when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4.

Florida currently has no centralized system that can show whether or not an individual has paid back all of their financial obligations or even how much is owed. Plaintiffs’ lawyers presented examples where individuals have records with conflicting amounts of money on them and other cases where the county couldn’t produce any records before a certain year. Lawyers argued that the new law discourages people who would like to vote but are fearful of breaking the law if fees from some long-ago case were later discovered.

US District Judge Robert Hinkle said the state can investigate whether a person’s claim of inability to pay monetary costs is legitimate and can establish a process for whether and how a person’s rights should be restored. But “what the state cannot do,” he wrote, “is deny the right to vote to a felon who would be allowed to vote but for the failure to pay amounts the felon has been genuinely unable to pay…The preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to any such plaintiff.” 

Judge Hinkle is postponing a final decision until the conclusion of the federal trial centering the law, which is scheduled to begin in April 2020.

Iowa Governor continues to push to expand voting rights

Governor Kim Reynolds announced that she will continue to advocate for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to people who have completed their felony sentence. Her proposal passed the House overwhelmingly earlier this year, but was blocked by Senate Republicans. Some senators had concerns about allowing people to vote without paying full restitution to their victims, while others had concerns regarding rights restoration for people convicted of violent offenses.

Iowa and Kentucky are the only states that currently require people with felony convictions to petition the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored. According to the Des Moines Register, Governor Reynolds has continued to work with senators to address their concerns without making it harder than it already is for people with felony convictions to regain their rights.

New Jersey State Bar Association supports ending felony disenfranchisement

The New Jersey State Bar Association recently wrote a letter to Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter in support of their legislation to end felony disenfranchisement in New Jersey. Legislation S2100/A3456 would allow people on probation, parole and in prison to vote. The letter highlighted the disproportionate impact the state’s disenfranchisement laws have had on African Americans, Latinos and transgender people of color. “These communities, perhaps the most vulnerable populations in New Jersey, therefore, are significantly underrepresented in their ability to have a voice in voting on the leaders and policy of this state. S2100/A3456 will change that.”

Scotland Temporarily Expands Voting Rights to Some in Prison

In order to stay in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits a blanket ban on in-prison voting, Scottish Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell issued a Remedial Order to expand voting rights to incarcerated people serving sentences of less than a year. The order impacted fewer than five people in the recent Holyrood by-election in Shetland.

“The courts have been crystal clear – the blanket ban on prisoner voting is not compliant with the ECHR. Whether people agree with that or oppose it, one thing everyone should agree on is that elections must be compliant with the law,” said Secretary Russell. “The timing of the by-election means action must be taken now, on a temporary basis, to ensure Scotland does not breach the ECHR.

Secretary Russell says he will repeal the order before the full parliamentary debate in order for lawmakers to vote to put a long-term solution in place.

Wales Restores Voting Rights to Nearly 2,000 Incarcerated People

The Welsh government plans to restore voting rights to 1,900 people, giving them the opportunity to vote in future council and assembly elections. The proposal will allow incarcerated residents who are serving sentences of less than four years—and young people serving similar sentences—the right to a postal or proxy vote. The changes will not be fully implemented until elections in 2022 and 2026, leaving people out of the next assembly elections in 2021.

“Voting is not a privilege and it shouldn’t be seen as such,” said former Welsh politician Leanne Wood, who also formerly worked as a probation officer. “Voting is something that we should want all of our citizens to be doing.”

Once the proposals are in place, Wales will have the most liberal prisoner voting policy in the UK, according to the BBC.

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