Former prisoners in Florida are suing over what they call an attempt by Republicans to restrict democracy and undo a historic initiative restoring the right to vote to 1.4 million previously incarcerated felons, reports The Guardian. Last year, Floridians gave their approval to the initiative, known as amendment 4, one of the most influential voting rights amendments in state history. Allowing ex-felons to cast a ballot has the potential to shift the balance of power in Florida, which has plumped narrowly for Republican candidates in recent major elections, by adding a significant population of voters back into the mix. Voting rights advocates were not able to celebrate for long. Months after Governor Ron DeSantis gave his tepid approval to amendment 4, the state legislature passed a bill that would require the newly eligible population to pay every court fee, fine and lien they might have faced during and after their conviction in order to vote. Amendment 4 supporters called the law a dangerous “poll tax” designed to disenfranchise voters of color.
On Monday, the former felons, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and others, sought an injunction calling the new law unconstitutional. “The ability to vote [under this law] becomes based on your pocketbook, how much money you have,” said Melba Pearson of the ACLU Florida chapter. “If you’re not able to pay fines or fees you would be prohibited from voting. That’s, quite frankly, wrong.” The case comes at a crucial time, with municipal and primary elections due in the coming weeks and the presidential election a year from now. The state went for Donald Trump in 2016 by a narrow margin. Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project cited estimates that upwards of 80 percent of the people who completed their sentences would be blocked from voting if the law is implemented.