2 Jacksonville women join voting rights federal lawsuit

Felons' rights supporters turn to courts, donations to tackle financial barriers

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Two Jacksonville women are part of a federal lawsuit challenging a new state law.

The law requires Floridians with past felony convictions to pay fines, fees and restitution before they are eligible for voting rights restoration under Amendment 4. It took effect Monday.

Rosemary McCoy and Shelia Singleton are the plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). It claims the new law is unconstitutional. According to the lawsuit, the state is denying them the right to vote based purely on their low-economic status.

“This law that was passed risks them being kicked off the rolls,” said Scott McCoy, with the SPLC. “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."

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,” Garcia said. "So even though this may have an 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 10 years."

According to data gathered by Florida clerks of court, many people who have been released from jail or prison will be permanently unable to pay fees. County clerks collected just 20% of court-imposed fees last year.

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While groups like the SPLC and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have turned to the courts, the Florida Rights Restoration Center (FRRC) is looking to the private sector for help with the financial requirements.

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 FRRC announced the new initiative, which would use private donations to help felons who can’t afford what they owe, via Facebook Live.

“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.

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. Click here for more information.

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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