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

Sen. Bernie Sanders (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.{mosads}

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 Booker (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 Buttigieg 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 Harris (D-Calif.) did not endorse Sanders’s proposal on felon voting, but said it was worth having a conversation about the issue.

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Felon voting rights Pete Buttigieg Poll tax

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