Federal judge considers blocking payment requirements for voting rights restoration

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Capitol News Service) - A federal judge is considering whether to temporarily block a law that prohibits felons from getting the right to vote back if they have outstanding fines fees or restitution.

While the payment requirements have spurred heavy opposition from some, a recent survey found three out of four voters support the law. (MGN)

Marching from the Federal Courthouse to a nearby church, voting rights activists made their demands clear Monday.

“Protect our vote,” activists chanted.

They’re hoping to overturn a law passed earlier this year, which requires felons to pay all fines, fees, and restitution before they’re eligible for voting rights restoration.

For many, it’s a reminder of the Jim Crow policy.

“Our state politicians have enacted a modern-day poll tax,” said Melba Pearson, Florida Deputy Director of the Amerian Civil Liberties Union.

An expert witness testifying in the case analyzed half a million felons' statuses. Eight out of ten still owed money related to their sentences. Most between $500 and $5,000.

Rosemary McCoy, a plaintiff in the case, registered to vote before the law was passed.

“I have restitution, but guess what? I was able to register, I was able to vote,” said McCoy. "So how can SB 7066 come back and say the world's going to end because she voted?”

While the payment requirements have spurred heavy opposition from some, a recent survey found three out of four voters support the law.

In its opening arguments, the state pointed to similar laws in Arizona, Alabama, and Tennessee that have been held up in court.

The state also noted the option in Florida’s law for fines and fees to be converted to community service if a felon can’t afford to pay.

If the judge does rule to block the law while the case makes its way through the courts, it could allow those like McCoy to stay on the rolls, possibly long enough to vote in local elections next month.

“I was shackled. My hands and feet were shackled. Now today, I want to be free,” said McCoy.

Arguments are expected to bleed over into Tuesday. The judge could issue a ruling at the conclusion of that hearing.