The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law filed a motion for preliminary injunction to block Senate Bill (“SB”) 7066, a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June that undermines Amendment 4 and prevents hundreds of thousands of newly re-enfranchised voters from voting in Florida. The organizations filed the initial federal lawsuit immediately after the bill was signed by Gov. DeSantis. SB7066 unconstitutionally denies the right to vote to returning citizens with past felony convictions based solely on their inability to pay all fines, fees, and other monetary penalties associated with their convictions.
“Politicians cannot legally place a price tag on a person’s right to vote. It’s past time for over a million Floridians to reclaim their place in democracy,” said Orion Danjuma, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, which, along with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, is challenging the law.
A preliminary analysis of outstanding legal financial obligations in Florida by Daniel A. Smith, professor and chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Florida, shows that in the 48 counties for which data has so far been analyzed, fewer than one in five—or just 66,108 of the 375,256 individuals with a felony conviction other than murder or a felony sexual offense who have been released from county or Florida Department of Corrections supervision—are likely to be eligible to register to vote under SB7066. This means that, across Florida’s 67 counties, SB7066 effectively disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters who would have been eligible to vote in Florida under Amendment 4 had the legislature not stepped in to dismantle it.
“We have been saying that this law has sought to remove people’s eligibility to vote and participate in our democracy,” said Daniel Tilley, legal director of the ACLU of Florida. “We now have additional evidence that supports that fact. Whether it was by enforcing literacy tests or requiring poll taxes, politicians have tried to restrict access to the ballot box throughout our country’s history and particularly for African Americans. Our legislature and governor have carried on that sordid history through SB7066. Despite this, we are committed to fighting to end barriers to voting.”
As the motion explains, the lack of a centralized database containing information on who is permitted to vote in Florida makes the state wholly unprepared to implement SB7066, which could wreak havoc on elections administration and cause Floridians to lose confidence in the state’s election system. A lack of uniform standards will inevitably lead to the law being applied unequally to similarly situated voters and to the unjust and unconstitutional deprivation of the right to vote for countless Floridians who should in fact be able to register.
“This law has only been in effect for a month. Already it is confusing potential voters and election administrators. Supervisors of Elections don’t know whether returning citizens are eligible to vote, and potential voters are being turned away. We’re asking the court to put an end to this chaos,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.
Dr. Smith’s analysis emphasizes the pronounced racial impact of SB7066. In 47 of the 48 countries studied, white people who were released from supervision were more likely, per capita, to be free of legal financial obligations and eligible to vote under SB7066 than black people who had also been released from supervision. In some counties, white people were at least twice as likely to have paid all of their fees and fines. SB7066 has a clear and significant race and class impact on Floridians and will disproportionately impact black individuals.
“Voting is so important to our client Raquel Wright that she laminated her voter registration card after her right to vote was restored by Amendment 4,” said Leah Aden, LDF’s deputy director of litigation. “A new law that violates the Constitution could prevent her and hundreds of thousands of other Floridians from accessing the ballot box until certain civil debt is paid, disproportionately impacting Black Floridians like Ms. Wright. Plain and simple, the law cannot stand.”
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