Federal Court Issues Ruling About Florida’s “Pay-to-Vote” System

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to Florida’s requirement that individuals with a former felony conviction must pay all financial obligations related to their sentence before they regain the right to vote. The court rejected claims put forth by two individuals, women of color with prior felony convictions, that Florida’s “pay to vote” system violates the 14th and 19th Amendments by denying the right to vote to “low-income women of color who face unemployment, low wages, and difficulty paying off their financial debts at much higher rates than their male and white female counterparts.” The appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling that this law does not discriminate against women. This upholds the district court’s finding that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate intentional gender discrimination even though “the pay-to-vote requirement is more likely to render a given woman ineligible to vote than an identically situated man.”

This order stems from multiple cases challenging Senate Bill 7066, which was passed after Florida voters adopted a constitutional amendment in 2018 that restores voting rights to individuals with prior felony convictions once they complete all terms of their sentence, including paying all fines and restitution. Multiple individuals with past felony convictions and voting rights organizations challenged this financial requirement, which led to a winding legal challenge through multiple courts (you can read more about that here). The 11th Circuit already held in a separate ruling in this case that Florida’s “pay-to-vote” scheme does not violate any constitutional provisions by denying the right to vote to former felons who cannot pay all fines related to their sentence.  This ruling allows Florida to require individuals to pay all fines and restitution before regaining their right to vote, regardless of if an individual can actually afford to do so.

Read the opinion here.