Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Deputy polling precinct worker Seandra Pinder helps guide a voter to cast their ballot in Florida's primary election at Precinct 321 on August 18, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

'Incredibly Dark Day for Voting Rights': With Support of Trump Judges, Federal Court Upholds Florida Poll Tax Weeks Before Election

"The gravity of this decision cannot be overstated. It is an affront to the spirit of democracy."

Jake Johnson

With the backing of five federal judges appointed by President Donald Trump, the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Friday ruled that Florida can require state residents with past felony convictions to pay off all court fines and fees before they are allowed to register to vote—a mandate that has been condemned as a "modern-day poll tax."

The ruling, which comes just weeks ahead of the November election, could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Floridians by hinging the right to vote on a person's ability to pay often exorbitant fees. Florida's deadline to register to vote in the presidential election is October 5.

"This ruling runs counter to the foundational principle that Americans do not have to pay to vote," said Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "The gravity of this decision cannot be overstated. It is an affront to the spirit of democracy."

Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern called the majority's decision (pdf)—penned by William Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee—"one of the most dishonest, misleading, and despicable voting rights opinions I have ever read."

"It is shockingly bad—an affront of the very notion that Americans have a right to vote," added Stern. "This decision was inevitable after Trump flipped the 11th Circuit by appointing five judges, all of whom joined today's appalling opinion, which truly makes me sick to my stomach. This is an incredibly dark day for voting rights."

The decision overturns a May district court ruling that deemed the Florida poll tax unconstitutional—a ruling that was later halted by the 11th Circuit. In July, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the 11th Circuit's order to stand.

Sasha Samberg-Champion, a civil rights attorney, slammed the ruling Friday as "incredibly unjust," tweeting that "not only does the Florida law amount to a poll tax, but Florida's eligibility-restoration scheme is so broken that many people with felony convictions have no way of knowing if they owe anything and, if so, how much."

The court's ruling comes less than two years after Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote to people with past felony convictions after they complete all of the terms of their sentence.

Shortly after Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, state GOP lawmakers passed legislation requiring those with felony convictions to pay off all fees in order to regain the franchise, a move rights groups warned would undermine the constitutional amendment and institute a "pay-to-vote scheme."

Daniel Tilley, legal director at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement that "despite today's ruling, the fight is not over."

"Creating roadblocks to voting based on wealth is unconstitutional, wrong, and appalling to anyone who cares about democracy," said Tilley. "Working with our partners, we will continue to inform those voters of their eligibility so that as many returning citizens as possible are able to participate in our democracy."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo