People who have felony convictions in Florida have been fighting a long battle to be able to exercise the right to vote. In November 2018, an amendment to the state’s constitution was approved that made it possible for more felons to vote. At the time of the approval, it was touted that as many as 1.5 million felons who were unable to vote would be able to under the new law.
Nearly two years later, that number has diminished considerably to around only 50,000. A court battle is underway to determine exactly what was meant by the requirement that felons complete all terms of their sentence before they’d be allowed to vote. State officials note that this includes fines and that people who voted on the law in 2018 knew this.
A group of 17 plaintiffs who launched the legal case note that there isn’t a valid way to determine who meets the requirement of having paid all fines. They further note that there isn’t any mention of fines in the amendment. The absence of a statewide database can make it difficult for felons who need to register under Amendment 4 to do so before the upcoming election.
Under the current plan, a felon who registers to vote will face what could be a lengthy process. Registration records are cross-checked with court records of people who have outstanding financial obligations to courts that are a result of a felony conviction. Matching records are flagged. The information is sent to the felon’s county office for voter registration, which is responsible for sending the person a notice about the outstanding obligation.
This system leaves a lot of room for error because of the possibility of delays in record reporting from courts. Because of the heavy burden that’s placed on the felon, anyone who is facing criminal charges should ensure that they understand what they’ll have to do to vote again. This might play a role in how they handle the defense strategy in their case.