U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle blocked a law last Friday previously implemented in Florida that required state residents with a felony record to pay back all the court fines they owed before being eligible to vote. The law, formerly known as Senate Bill 7066, was passed in June of this year by Republican governor Ron Desantis and created quite the controversy among civil rights activists. It was deemed an unconstitutional poll tax, with some arguing that it was a form of voter suppression.

But why was the law deemed unconstitutional? If felons are not in a place financially to pay back the fees, why should they lose a constitutional right?

Many felt that the law was a step backwards. Established last November, Amendment 4 to the state’s constitution restored voting rights to people “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” It is estimated that around 1.4 million Floridians regained their right to vote. SB 7066, which was passed under a majority Republican legislature, immediately affected many Hispanic or African American voters, two demographics that are often more inclined to vote Democratic. This created suspicion as to whether the law was passed with the intent of furthering the Republican agenda.

According to Northwestern political science professor Thomas Ogorzalek, actions like this are common for elites or incumbents in a lot of political systems, and are historically associated with the reemergence of white supremacy.

“This is a way of shaping the electorate so that you’re better able to reinforce your power,” Ogorzalek said. “We think that [the political consequences] would be big in places like Florida that are very close and have very large numbers of people that are kept out of the electorate.”

A prime example of this was seen in the 2000 presidential election. Less than 1000 voters were needed to tip Florida’s electoral votes from the Republican to the Democraticic candidate. In that same election, more than 1 million Black Floridians—a group that had the potential to change the outcome of the entire election—were kept from voting. Florida is not alone in these incidents. The act of shaping the electorate is often detrimental in other states with disenfranchised populations, such as Georgia.

“People having equal access to the political sphere is a super important baseline for what we call democracy,” said Ogorzalek.

He explained that in general, political scientists tend to believe that more participation is more beneficial to society. The easier it is to participate, Ogorzlek said, the more inclined individuals are to do so.

“We always want to look really hard at [costs imposed on voters] to see if they are reasonable,” he said.

The U.S. is also an outlier when it comes to incarceration. Ogorzalek says that the proportion of individuals sent to jail is higher than in other countries, especially for people of color. In addition, the rules applied to incarcerated individuals tend to be more restrictive. In many other countries, a person can vote while in jail. He also noted that around 2% of the population is exposed to the criminal justice system in some form and are not permitted to exercise their voting rights at any given time.

“Both of those things are hitting large groups of people in distinctively undemocratic ways,” he said. “We need to think robustly about having everyone who’s a member of our society also be a member of our political society because that’s an important democratic value.”

The U.S. Constitution also has clear restrictions against poll taxes, making the act of requiring payment to vote unconstitutional. In Florida, Judge Hinkle came to the conclusion that according to the constitutional amendment made last year, states have the right to prevent felons from voting if they can afford to pay their fines but choose not to. However, he also said that “the law was equally clear that Florida cannot refuse to restore a former felon’s voting rights simply because the felon is unable to pay legal debts.”

The judge’s issue of the preliminary injunction currently only affects 17 individuals who filed a lawsuit in which they argued that they did not have the financial means to pay back conviction costs. However, this case is still significant. According to the New York Times, “Evidence in the lawsuit indicated that roughly four in five felons who have completed their sentences had unpaid fines, court costs or restitution to victims of their crimes.”

The decision does not apply to all of Florida as of now, but if the ruling stands, the state will be forced to change the policy. The ruling is seen as a step toward ensuring that Florida’s government is unable to suppress the voting rights of felons.

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