Over the weekend, a federal judge mulched Florida's Felon Poll Tax law.
A federal judge has gutted a Florida state law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to vote, clearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election.
Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) pushed the measure after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to expand voting rights to felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole.”
The law’s backers said it was necessary to clarify the amendment, while critics said Republicans were trying to limit the effects of what would have been the largest expansion of the state’s electorate since poll taxes and literacy tests were outlawed during the civil rights era.
The law, critics said, had made it virtually impossible for most felons to register, either because of an inability to pay or because the state offered no way for them to know what they owed or whether they had already paid.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle agreed, likening the restrictive legislation to a tax and concluding that the state had not created a system that would allow felons to identify their financial obligations.
“The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs,” wrote Hinkle, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, referring to the constitutional amendment that bans poll taxes.
Hinkle did not find, however, that the law intentionally discriminated on the basis of race, as the plaintiffs had argued, because of the disproportionate number of African Americans among the state’s population of felons.
Hinkle’s order requires the state to tell felons whether they are eligible to vote and what they owe. It also requires the state to allow any felon to register if they are not given an answer within 21 days. No one will face perjury charges for registering and voting through this process, he ordered.
We'll see how far this gets before the GOP finds a friendly 11th Circuit Court to stay the order ahead of November. Don't count on Hinkle's order to stand through the election at all. This is far from over. What I'm afraid of is an appellate stay order or ruling that allows Florida to continue to disenfranchise over a million felons who have served their time and then SCOTUS won't hear the case until after the election, and then a 5-4 decision siding with DeSantis.
Don't get me wrong, this is good news.
But odds are extremely high that it won't remain good news much longer.
Meanwhile in California...
The Republican National Committee and other Republican groups have filed a lawsuit against California to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to all voters ahead of the 2020 general election, a move that was made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The suit comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced this month that the state would move to encourage all voters to cast their ballots by mail in November -- the most widespread expansion of vote-by-mail that has been announced as a result of the pandemic and in the nation's most populous state.
The RNC's lawsuit challenges that step, marking a significant escalation in the legal battles between Republicans and Democrats that are currently being waged in more than a dozen states.
"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections," said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement.
"Newsom's illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote."
McDaniel's comments echo President Donald Trump who has expressed vehement opposition to Newsom's order and has pushed back strenuously against expansions to vote-by-mail across the country.
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted another attack on vote-by-mail, which included several claims for which he provided no evidence.
"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots," Trump tweeted. "It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history.
Again, Republicans are trying to make it as difficult as possible to vote, and are screaming that allowing more people to vote is a "rigged election".
Does anyone still think Trump will accept a loss in November?