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Elections officials say not enough time to purge ex-felons from Florida voter rolls

Voters with past felony convictions who haven’t paid financial debts will be on flagged list

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 22: Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Florida voters head to the polls to cast their early ballots in the race for the Senate as well as the Governors seats. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 22: Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Florida voters head to the polls to cast their early ballots in the race for the Senate as well as the Governors seats. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Division of Elections is telling county election supervisors it will begin identifying registered voters who are ineligible because they haven’t paid off all their financial obligations related to past felony convictions.

The Division of Elections sent an email to Florida’s 67 election supervisors, informing them that convicted felons with outstanding court-ordered debts will be included in lists of flagged voters who should potentially be removed from the rolls.

However, their removal from the rolls isn’t likely before Nov. 3 because of a law that requires voters to be given notice and provided time to prove they are eligible to vote.

The move to include felons in the flagged voters list comes more than a year after the passage of a controversial state law requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” -- fines, fees, costs and restitution -- associated with their convictions to be eligible to vote.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law to implement a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole and probation,” excluding murderers and felony sexual offenders.

Voting-rights groups challenged the constitutionality of the 2019 law, likening it to imposing a “poll tax” on felons seeing to vote. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month sided with Gov. Ron DeSantis and overturned a federal district judge’s May ruling that found the law was unconstitutional.

RELATED: What ex-felons need to know to have voting rights restored in time for election

Under a process that’s long been in place, state elections officials screen voter-registration applications for eligibility and send lists of flagged people to county supervisors of elections. Local officials have the authority to remove ineligible people from the voting rolls.

Craig Latimer, Florida Supervisors of Elections president, said once a registration is contested, the process of removing a voter from the rolls can take up to two months.

“Quite frankly, there’s going to be nobody that should be taken off the roll with us being 19 days out from an election,” said Latimer.

But Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida worries the message sent by the state could have other consequences.

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“This is a clear effort to intimidate voters and to sew doubt in the minds of our returning citizens,” said Brigham.

Intentionally registering and voting when people know they are ineligible is a felony, under Florida law. But election supervisors said as long as you are registered and honestly believe you are eligible to vote, you can do so, even if the state raises questions about your eligibility.

And Leon County Election Supervisor Mark Earley said once your vote is cast, it will be counted.

“Once we receive a ballot and tabulate a ballot, it’s counted and you can’t take those results back out because it’s mixed in with all the other ballots,” Earley said. “Voting is anonymous.”

Whether a legal challenge may be waged to contest the election results based on felon votes is an open question.

But there is at least one case from 2016 where a similar challenge failed. The 2016 case involved a Putnam County Sheriff’s race where 32 felons voted.

A county judge ruled the votes should still be counted because the felons were lawfully registered when their ballots were cast.

The effort to clear felons' court-related debts has drawn support from celebrities, musicians and superstar athletes, such as John Legend, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

But felons have encountered significant interference when trying to determine how much they were ordered to pay when they were convicted and whether they still have outstanding fines and fees.

News Service of Florida reporter Dara Kam contributed to this report.