Felons voting rights supporters turn to courts and private donations to tackle new financial barriers

Politics

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – The group responsible for getting the felons voting rights amendment on the ballot announced an initiative Tuesday to help pay off the fines, fees, and restitution owed by an estimated 500,000 felons in the state. 

The outstanding financial obligations are required to be paid under the new law that took effect Monday before felons are eligible for voting rights restoration under Amendment 4.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) announced the new initiative via Facebook Live, which would use private donations to help felons who can’t afford what they owe.

“While others might see obstacles, what FRRC sees is opportunities,” said Demond Meade, President of the FRRC.

So far, the FRRC has raised more than $700,000. 

The initial goal is to collect $3 million, but it’s estimated billions of dollars are owed across the state. While the FRRC is looking to the private sector for help with the financial requirements, groups like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have turned to the courts.

The SPLC filed the most recent of four suits on behalf of two Jacksonville women.

“This law that was passed risks them being kicked off the rolls,” said Scott McCoy with the SPLC. The suit alleges the payment requirements disproportionately impact women of color.

“Just because you’re poor and you can’t afford to pay your fine or fee you are denied the right to vote. That’s unconstitutional,” said McCoy.

However, clemency lawyer Reggie Garcia noted debts can be converted to community service or waived altogether by a judge under the current law.

“Remember the alternative to the amendment is waiting years and years and years to get your clemency case heard,” said Garcia. “So even though this may have and additional speed bump or hurdle, for maybe a third of the convicted felons, it’s something they can resolve in three to six months rather than six or eight or ten years.”

FRRC said it will also be working to help felons get their financial obligations converted or waived through the courts as part of its campaign.
Even with the financial obligations, it’s estimated more than 800,000 felons have become eligible to vote thanks to Amendment 4.

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