Sanders slams Florida bill requiring felons to pay court fees before voting as 'racist and unconstitutional'

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting MORE (I-Vt.) denounced the passage of a bill in the Florida House that would require felons to pay court fees before becoming eligible to vote, calling it a “racist and unconstitutional” effort "to deny people the right to vote."

The legislation, which passed Wednesday along party lines, would require felons to pay all court fees and costs in addition to any restitution owed before being granted the right to vote.

“Enough with the racist and unconstitutional efforts to deny people the right to vote. If you are an American citizen you must be able to vote. End of discussion,” tweeted Sanders, who is widely seen as a front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary race.

The Florida bill would limit a state constitutional amendment that passed in 2018 that restored voting rights to about 1.5 million felons who have been released from prison.


The bill's sponsor, GOP state Rep. James Grant has said the legislation clarifies the amendment and that fees and fines are part of a prison sentence.

Democrats, however — including Sanders's fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals MORE (N.J.) — have said the measure amounts to a “poll tax.” Poll taxes were used to bar African Americans from voting during the Jim Crow era by forcing black people to pay extra fees before they could cast ballots.

The issue of voting rights was thrust into the spotlight this week after Sanders said during a CNN town hall that all prisoners, including domestic terrorists like the Boston Marathon bomber, should have the right to vote while they are incarcerated.

“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they’re going to be punished,” Sanders said. “I do believe that even if they are in jail, they’re paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.”

Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination have offered differing opinions on whether incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) have said nonviolent offenders should be able to vote while in prison, though they have said voting rights should be withheld from violent criminals who are behind bars.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Build Back Better items on chopping block Buttigieg says delay in climate action will cost lives amid reports of Manchin roadblock MORE said this week that felons should not be able to vote while they serve their sentences, but added that "enfranchisement upon release is important." Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisAre supply chain disruptions the beginning of the end of globalization? Harris to campaign with McAuliffe in Virginia Harris to highlight drought, climate change in Nevada trip MORE (D-Calif.) did not endorse Sanders’s proposal on felon voting, but said it was worth having a conversation about the issue.