JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly a million and a half ex-felons have either had their voting rights restored, or are eligible to have them restored, but few are aware this has happened.
Amendment 4 was approved by voters in November 2018. It took effect in January of last year. It restores the voting rights of ex-felons who meet certain eligibility: they have been convicted of a felony, other than for murder or a sex offense, they have completed their sentence, including all parole and probation requirements, and they have paid all court fines, fees and restitution designated in their sentencing conviction.
Many of the ex-felons who served their sentences several years ago, may not be aware of the amendment that has now restored their right to vote. Of those who are eligible, several meet the first two requirements but are ineligible because they do not have the financial ability to pay the last requirement -- their court fees, fines and restitution.
Local attorney Ramona Chaplin said there are two agencies that can help these ex-felons either pay those fees or direct them to an organization that can help. The first one is the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition: https://floridarrc.com/.
“Pretty much what they are doing, say they have a pot full of money. Some of the grants, that’s in the pot full of money is from Lebron James, Michael B Jordan, and Michael Bloomberg. So they have this pot full of money, and all they have to do is apply on the website. It’s very mobile-friendly, takes less than 5 minutes to complete,” she explained.
The other organization is D.W. Perkins Bar Association, which is based in Jacksonville. It has an army of lawyers helping ex-felons fill out the application for financial assistance on the coalition’s website. To contact the bar association, call 904-356-7343.
If you do not know if you owe court fines, you can check by searching your name on the clerk of court’s webpage of the county where you live or where you were sentenced.
It is important to know that if are eligible to have your voting rights restored, this will not happen automatically. You will still need to register to vote. The deadline is Oct. 5.
If you have paid all your court fees, fines and restitution, but were charged fines related to a late payment, these fines cannot prevent your voting rights from being restored.
The deadline to register to vote in the November election is only 12 days away. If you have not paid all your fines, Chaplin said, you should still register to vote as long as you have filed an application for assistance by Oct. 5.
You then have until Nov. 3 to work with an organization to help you pay the court fees, fines or restitution so your voting rights can be restored.
If you have a prior felony conviction and you want to check to see if your voting rights have been restored, check with the Florida Commission on Offender Review: https://fpcweb.fcor.state.fl.us/.
Be sure to search under all variations of your name, including nicknames.
If you still have questions, contact the Division of Elections, Bureau of Voter Registration Services at 850-245-6290.