The state of Florida is one of 11 states that prevent or complicate felon voting rights. Felons are individuals who have been adjudicated guilty of committing felony-level crimes. In Florida, those who have completed all other hurdles to restoring their right to vote find that they still have to pay any remaining court costs, fines, and restitution to reinstate their right to vote.
Voter Approved Change
In a vote held in 2018, nearly two-thirds of participants voted to amend the state constitution. This amendment allows felons to vote, provided they complete their prison sentence and/or probation. Voters did not extend voting rights to those convicted of murder or felonious sex crimes. The state legislature then sought to clarify the amendment. They did so by passing a law that stated that felons must have completed “all terms of sentence”. This meant they would be required to pay all fines, fees, or other restitution that were part of their sentence. However, there was no centralized listing of this information for ex-felons or their attorneys to access. In fact, the State said that it would take roughly six years to create and implement such a system.
Two felons challenged that law and initially won their case in both federal district court and the court of appeals. But in early July of this year, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, allowing the law to remain in place and in effect. The felons then appealed to the US Supreme Court. In a 6-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, blocking felons from registering or voting for the upcoming election if they had outstanding court costs, fines, and/or restitution.
What Are People Doing About This?
There are now several groups of people created to help pay the fines of these felons. Paying the fines helps them restore their right to vote before the upcoming voter registration deadline of October 5. Desmond Meade, who runs the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, has a program that uses donated funds to assist in paying off these fines and fees. They say that so far, they have helped around 4,000 people. The group is also working to reach a large group of felons who may not be aware that they are eligible to register to vote. In addition to Meade, former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg worked to raise more than $16 million to help ex-felons pay their fines and fees, enabling re-enfranchisement for approximately 32,000 ex-felons.