JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in years or the first time ever, some of those voting over the next 10 days in the Florida Presidential Preference Primary are those with felony convictions who have had their voting rights restored, thanks to a citizen’s ballot initiative passed two years ago and the federal courts.
Amendment 4, which passed in 2018, promised to restore voting rights for over 1 million Floridians released after having served time for felony convictions.
Saturday afternoon, the New Florida Majority and the Collective Voices Coalition held a rally outside Highlands Library on Dunn Avenue -- one of 18 early voting sites in Duval County -- encouraging people to get out and vote. Ten people who had their voting rights restored cast ballots at the library Saturday.
“It feels amazing. It brought tears to my eyes," said Sherry Oliver, a former inmate who was able to vote for the first time in her life. “To be able to have an opinion ... knowing that my voice do count and that I’m not just a horrible person. I’m a human being that’s healed with the rest of the world. It makes me feel equal.”
It hasn’t been an easy implementation across the state and advocates said there’s still a long way to go to restoring voting rights for all.
Following the passing of Amendment 4, the Florida Legislature followed up the citizen’s initiative with a law of it own requiring felons to pay off all fines and fees related to their convictions before they can vote.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that law unconstitutional because it denies the right to vote to felons who are genuinely unable to pay.
Nubian Roberts, of Dignity Coalition Florida, said making felons pay fines before they can vote is suppression.
“We’ve got a lot of people who are oppressed, their voices are not being heard," Roberts said. “It’s like taxation without representation and we just want our people to be liberated. So Amendment 4 was a good starting place, but we still have so much more to fight for with these fines and fees.”
Oliver said people don’t understand how fees and fines get added even after a person is convicted.
“Like every 30 days they add at least 700-600 more dollars, so it’s like if you even try to pay half of i, how can you pay the next step if they’re still adding money?" Oliver said. “There’s no limitation to them to add the fees and fines. So they know that we can’t be able to pay for it so why not allow us to vote?”
Courts can modify original criminal sentences to waive or reduce fees.
The fee battle is ongoing and it’s unclear if it will get resolved ahead of this year’s presidential election.
Early voting in Florida expanded to every county in Florida on Saturday and continues until next Saturday in most places. Click for a list of the locations and hours of early voting throughout Northeast Florida. The story also lets information about the identification you need to bring and a preview of the ballot.
All voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17.