A Florida law forcing former convicts to reimburse court fees, fines and compensation as a prerequisite for regaining their right to vote is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Sunday. Florida, in the southeast of the United States, is one of the swing states, that is to say a state likely to fall into the fold of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party from an election to the other. It is crucial for Republican President Donald Trump if he wants a chance to win a second term in November.
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The decision rendered by judge Robert Hinkle opens the way to the registration on the electoral lists of hundreds of thousands of former convicts in this state where presidential elections are often torn on the edge. This law, adopted in 2019, creates a "pay to vote" system that affects nearly a million people, noted the judge. "This system is unconstitutional because it concerns people who otherwise can vote but who are truly unable to pay the required amount." For many detainees - often black or Latin American, and poor - it is difficult if not impossible to pay their legal debts.
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Seventeen former detainees, represented by human rights organizations, had filed a lawsuit. Justice Hinkle's decision applies to everyone in their case. The former detainees had obtained the unconditional right to regain their elector status by a referendum in 2018, intended to revoke a law dating back 150 years aimed at preventing blacks from voting. But after the referendum, the governor had promulgated a law making the reimbursement of judicial debts a condition, which has now been rejected by the federal courts. This new possibility does not, however, apply to those convicted of murder or a crime of a sexual nature.
Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis has the opportunity to appeal.