Tags: 2020 Elections | Voting Rights | felons | florida | amendment four

Florida Felons Must Pay Fines Before Voting but State Has No System

woman in a blue top carrying a small child in a courtroom
A Miami local and her child are called up during a special court hearing aimed at restoring the right to vote under Florida's Amendment 4 in a Miami-Dade County courtroom on November 8, 2019, in Miami, Florida. (Zak Bennett/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 13 May 2020 11:52 AM

Florida felons gained the right to vote after voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2018 permitting the change.

But The Washington Post reports less than 50,000 felons out of about 1.5 million felons have registered to vote since the rule change to Amendment 4.

The new law requires felons to pay any court-related fines, fees and restitution before they are allowed to register to vote. Felons must also swear under oath that all debts are paid. 

The amendment restored voting rights to felons who have completed "all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation." It excludes those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

A lawsuit challenging the requirement alleges a large number of felons are too poor to pay their fines, the newspaper reports.

And those who have the money, say there is no system is place to find out whether they owe money. 

State officials said they would set up a process for felons who are unable to pay to be allowed to vote anyway. They also said they would create a streamlined system for determining what is owed. 

Nearly a year after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law into effect, neither system is in place. 

"They kept sending me from office to office to office to office," Jamall Williams, told the Washington Post about his months-long conversations with the Leon County court clerk's office. 

The office held the record of his 2009 conviction for grand theft auto.

Williams said he wants to vote and said it would make his wife, who is a voter-registration volunteer, happy. 

"That's how I met her," he said. "She tried to register me to vote, and I wasn't able, because I'm a convicted felon.”

Concerned he could face jail time for registering to vote if he has outstanding court fees, he said he gave up. 

"I kind of quit,” he said. "I don't want to go to jail for that.”

When the ballot measure passed, it was considered the largest reenfranchisement of voters since the Civil Rights era.

"The governor's office and the Republican legislature are continuing to put up roadblock after roadblock after roadblock for the individuals who want to get their rights reinstated," State Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr., a Democrat, told the newspaper. "This is clearly not an effort to help with the will of the people, but to thwart the will of the people.”

The topic of the financial requirement being a poll tax was discussed in court last week.

District Judge Robert L. Hinkle found the requirement unconstitutional in a preliminary ruling in the case and promised a speedy ruling. 

"You can't vote unless you know something you don't know, and the only way you're going to be able to vote is to sign a false affidavit," the judge said during closing arguments. "We were talking about having this all done and in place where people could vote in the 2020 election. But this suggests that they wouldn't even be able to vote in the 2024 election."

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Florida felons gained the right to vote after voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution in 2018 permitting the change. But The Washington Post reports less than 50,000 felons out of about 1.5 million felons have registered to vote since the rule change to...
felons, florida, amendment four
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2020-52-13
Wednesday, 13 May 2020 11:52 AM
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