ORLANDO, Fla. – Ex-felons in Florida are reacting to a federal appellate court ruling that requires all felons to pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before they can vote again.
That ruling reverses a lower court judge’s decision that gave Florida felons the right to vote regardless of outstanding financial obligations. Amendment 4 passed in 2018, allowing ex-felons to vote if they complete their sentences, but there was a discrepancy over what a “completed sentence” means.
The amendment bans convicted murderers and rapists from voting. The new ruling allows ex-felons to vote only after all of their legal obligations have been met, including fines and restitution.
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“Everyone deserves a second chance. Once you paid your debt to society, your debt is paid so you shouldn’t be recriminalized because you made a mistake in your past,” said Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Chapter and Membership Coordinator Tiniesha Johnson.
A report submitted to the court claims there are more than 700,000 ex-felons in Florida who are ineligible to vote because of outstanding fines such as court fees and restitution. Members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said that could have a huge impact on the upcoming election.
“It could definitely sway an election. I think we’re still living in a Jim Crow era no matter how you put it, it’s voter suppression at its finest and something we have to continue to fight to overcome,” Johnson said.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is an organization that helps people with convictions transition back into society. The organization started a fund to help ex-felons pay their court fees so they can register to vote.
This issue hits home for Johnson.
“I was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, which is a federal charge in Philadelphia. It was a learning experience. I wouldn’t change anything about my past because it put me in the place today to help people get a second chance,” Johnson said.
Johnson said voting is a constitutional right that should be given to those who have completed their jail time and have transitioned to productive citizens in society.
“I don’t think there’s going to be change before November. I think everyone who is eligible to vote now is our main goal, to get them registered. Then we can focus on the courts after November,” Johnson said.
Johnson said FRRC has already raised and help pay out more than $3 million in fines to help ex-felons in Florida.
Ex-felons in Florida may get financial help in paying their fines by contacting FRRC by texting “FINES” to 82623 or calling the hotline at 877-MY-VOTE-0.