By Jimmy Midyette
Following a hearing over two days on the issue of Senate Bill 7066, a federal judge in Tallahassee released an order in our favor on Oct. 18.
In court, our clients demonstrated that the law SB7066 unfairly denies their ability to register and vote in Florida elections. The most important immediate impact of the judge’s order is that the 17 named plaintiffs in the consolidated case can register and cast a ballot in upcoming city, state, and federal elections, but the order also opens a path for many others to regain their rights.
The unconstitutional law, SB7066, requires returning citizens with past felony convictions to not only finish their incarceration and probation but also pay any outstanding fines, fees and restitution before they can vote. In passing the bill earlier this year, members of the Florida Legislature undermined Amendment 4, which was approved by over five million Florida voters in November last year and which returned the ability to vote to as many as 1.4 million people.
Voting is a fundamental right. We are thankful for the constitutional safeguards that keep politicians from restricting the right to vote to only those people who can afford to pay for it. We feel a huge sense of gratitude for our brave clients who stepped forward to share their stories and fight in court for the right to vote for all Floridians.
Our motion for preliminary injunction was based generally on two legal issues: the state can’t engage in wealth discrimination when it comes to voting, and the state has failed to establish a workable solution for returning citizens to know what fees, fines, and other money obligations, if any, they’re expected to pay pursuant to SB7066 before voting. Judge Robert Hinkle acknowledged these sometimes intractable difficulties and made quite clear that the denial of the right to vote cannot be based on someone’s inability to pay.
Although the court’s specific injunction concerned the 17 named plaintiffs in the case, the order explained the requirements of the constitution, which must be followed by the state. As such, returning citizens who believe they’re being unconstitutionally prevented from voting may come forward and ask state officials to be included in our democracy. Our team is intent on helping the state ensure the opportunity to register and vote for Florida’s 1.4 million returning citizens, especially for the hundreds of thousands whom we believe may owe money amounts that would prevent them from voting under Amendment 4. The State of Florida needs to enable these individuals to register in time to participate in upcoming opportunities to vote, including the March 17, 2020 presidential primary.
Beyond the work we’re doing to help make Judge Hinkle’s preliminary injunction a reality for all returning citizens, our team is continuing to prepare for the final hearing in the case, which is scheduled for the week of April 6, 2020. We expect there will be many opportunities to help decision makers correct the flaws in SB7066, so that Floridians can be confident in our election system for the important elections coming up throughout 2020.
Voting is a fundamental right. We are thankful for the constitutional safeguards that keep politicians from restricting the right to vote to only those people who can afford to pay for it.
We feel a huge sense of gratitude for our brave clients who stepped forward to share their stories and fight in court for the right to vote for all Floridians. The chance they have taken to fight for voting rights in our country is profoundly moving. Finally, we feel the support from the more than 5.1 million voters who made Amendment 4 the law of the land in Florida last Nov. 6.
The goal line to protect the fundamental intent of Amendment 4 is in sight and we are going to get there together.
Jimmy Midyette, The Crag Orear American Civil Liberties Union of Florida LGBT Legal Fellow, Legal.
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