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Federal judge eyes Florida's felon voting rights law

'We’re sick and tired of the Jim Crow laws'
Posted at 7:11 PM, Oct 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-07 19:11:21-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A federal judge is eyeing whether to block a new law limiting voting rights for Florida felons.

Monday, inside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, attorneys for former prisoners, the NAACP and ACLU called for Judge Robert Hinkle to temporarily put the law on hold until the broader lawsuit regarding its constitutionality is resolved.

The law limits the scope of Amendment 4, which voters approved last year. It requires felons to not only serve their time in prison but pay all financial obligations— court fees, fines and restitution before voting.

Opponents believe the financial requirement violates the U.S. Constitution, calling it a new poll tax. They also claim felon finance records are too scattered or incomplete for equal implementation of the law.

The attorneys spent hours trying to make their case for the temporary injunction, calling witnesses that included election officials, felons and a University of Florida Political Science professor.

Dr. Daniel Smith told the court his research suggested as many as four out of every five Florida felons still have financial obligations to pay before voting. The data was gathered from 58 of the state’s 67 counties.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Rosemary McCoy, a felon from Jacksonville who owes restitution, was hopeful the judge would see things her way. She was initially granted voting rights in January when Amendment 4 took effect. McCoy voted in a municipal election but has since been disenfranchised under the legislature's refined rules, which started in summer.

“This is injustice,” McCoy said. “It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. We’re sick and tired of the Jim Crow laws. We thought it was done. Now you want to bring back the Jim Crow law? That’s not right.”

Attorneys for the state argued the law met muster. They cited other states with similar measures and told the judge the law is in line with what Amendment 4 voters believed they were approving last November.

The judge will continue hearing arguments on Tuesday morning. It may take days before he rules on whether to grant the injunction.