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After SCOTUS Ruling, Biden Slams Florida Law That Bars Ex-Felons From Voting If They Owe Fines

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is responding to a Supreme Court ruling that let stand a Florida law that bars ex-felons from voting if they cannot pay fines.

“Let’s call this what it is: A modern-day poll tax. It’s unconscionable,” Biden said in a tweet on Thursday evening. 

“We need to restore voting rights for individuals formerly incarcerated for felonies — and ensure everyone can make their voice heard at the ballot box,” he continued.

Biden linked to a CNN story on the ruling that says Florida can enforce the law. 

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In 2018, Amendment 4 passed in Florida with roughly 65% of the vote, which would restore voting rights for roughly 1 million Floridians with prior felony convictions who had completed “all terms of sentence.”

After the amendment went into effect, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill that included fines and other legal obligations to the “terms of sentence.”

Opponents of the bill say it imposes an unfair burden on Floridians who are leaving prison and may not have a job. A study from the University of Florida political professor Daniel Smith found that roughly 775,000 Floridians with felony convictions have outstanding financial obligations.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle said the law violated the Constitution and that Florida did not have the right to bar residents from voting due to outstanding fees — not related to restitution payments to victims. 

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented on the decision to let the law stand and said it “prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor … even though a preliminary injunction had been in place for nearly a year and a federal district court had found the State’s pay-to-vote scheme un-constitutional after an 8-day trial.”

Biden’s reference to poll-taxes refers to a method deployed in southern states after the Civil War to prevent Black Americans from casting votes. 

In the late-1800’s, the former Confederate states passed laws that required voters to pay a poll tax before they could vote. 

There were “grandfather” clauses that exempted poor-white Americans — however, those exemptions were not extended to Black Americans. 

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