ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 last year with the intention of automatically restoring voting rights to most felons who have served their time, but how it works remains cloudy because of provisions added by the state legislature.
Florida lawmakers passed a bill during this year's legislative session that some critics called a "poll tax." It required ex-felons to pay all of their financial obligations before they can register to vote.
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the group behind Amendment 4, challenged the provisions in the Florida Supreme Court and it’s still in litigation limbo. FRRC President Desmond Meade joined News 6 anchor Justin Warmoth on “The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com” to discuss where voting rights currently stand for returning citizens.
"Amendment 4, in its wording, created three conditions that had to be met before the right to vote is triggered," Meade said. "Condition number one is that you weren't convicted of murder. Condition number two is that you weren't convicted of felony sexual offenses. Condition number three is that you fully completed your sentence as ordered by a judge."
The issue surrounds condition number three. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis believed the law needed to be more clear about when a sentence is actually considered complete. Meade agrees that if ordered by a judge at the time of sentencing, fines, fees and restitution should be paid before someone can have their rights restored.
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"What we pushed back on initially was extra financial obligations that were not a part of the sentence," Meade said. "We knew about statutory fines and restitution to an individual. We believe that people who have made mistakes and may have caused harm in our community, we are 100% committed to repairing that harm and being an asset to our community. That means that if I ask you to vote so I can get my full citizenship back, then I have to have a genuine intent in my heart to make sure that I make you whole if I caused you any harm."
Meade and other members of FRRC have been on a statewide bus tour to register as many people as they can. While many of the 1.4 million former felons in the state don't have financial obligations preventing them from getting their rights restored, there are thousands who do. Meade has set up a fund to help those people pay off all fines and court fees.
"Any one of the 1.4 million who have a desire to participate in elections should have that opportunity, and we're committed to walk with them every step of the way," Meade said. "That means we can get them into the courts to get their sentence modified. We have also raised half a million dollars to start writing checks to help people pay these fines and fees off so they can be able to vote again."