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FL Voting Rights Remain in Limbo with Amendment 4 Ruling

A coalition of Florida organizations rallies in Tallahassee against Senate Bill 7066, which stipulates all prison-related fines must be paid before a person's voting rights can be restored. (Trimmel Gomes)
A coalition of Florida organizations rallies in Tallahassee against Senate Bill 7066, which stipulates all prison-related fines must be paid before a person's voting rights can be restored. (Trimmel Gomes)
October 28, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The legal fight to restore the voting rights of some 1.4 million Floridians who were formerly incarcerated will carry on, as the 2020 election approaches. Giving a slight victory to voting-rights groups, a federal judge ruled the state can't deny the right to vote simply because a person can't afford to pay their court fines.

After voters approved Amendment 4, a Republican-controlled Legislature added restrictions, arguing that all fines and restitution amounts should be paid to complete a person's sentence. Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the new law has caused confusion because the state doesn't really know how many people have fines pending.

"And the state has even acknowledged that they don't know,” Abudu said. “And that's the reason why one of the claims in the case has to do with the confusing process or nature of this law. There's no uniform, systematic record-keeping process in place."

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition will kick off a statewide bus tour on Saturday to raise awareness for its Fines and Fees Fund to help people who may encounter financial barriers during the voter-registration process.

Judge Robert Hinkle's ruling only applied to those who sued, and he said even they aren't automatically eligible to vote. That issue will have to be clarified when the Florida Supreme Court hears the case in April 2020. In the meantime, Abudu is encouraging others who have paid their fines to register.

"There's enough number of people who don't owe any financial obligations and they know that,” she said. “And therefore, for sure, those individuals should go ahead and register to vote and should hopefully face no obstacles in terms of getting back on the voter rolls."

For anyone wondering whether they are eligible to register, groups like the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition have said they will hold activities throughout the state to help educate the public.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL