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Fighting to Eliminate Voter Confusion for FL Ex-Offenders

Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (center right), rallied at Florida's Capitol with about 600 people calling for criminal justice reform. (FRRC)
Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (center right), rallied at Florida's Capitol with about 600 people calling for criminal justice reform. (FRRC)
February 21, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The news was spreading with excitement after a Florida appeals court affirmed the state can't stop some people released from prison from registering to vote just because they haven't paid all their court fees - but there's a caveat.

The Wednesday ruling affects only the 17 people who filed the suit to challenge Florida's law - instead of the 1.4 million former felons waiting to have their rights restored under Amendment 4.

Desmond Meade, executive director with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition - who authored the amendment - says the roller-coaster process of litigation is tough. Much like his own time waiting to hear whether he would be released from prison.

"And that's very draining and taxing," says Meade. "And so my heart goes out to any returning citizen - right? Who is taking this up-and-down journey of litigation and this stuff with the legislation, and is getting confused."

Amendment 4 was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 - then, the Republican-led Legislature passed a law saying people had to pay any fines and fees before getting their rights restored. A Tallahassee federal judge said that amounts to an unfair poll tax.

Governor Ron DeSantis plans to challenge the ruling.

The ruling still gives hope to those expecting to have their voting rights restored, and Meade vows to keep working, under the current law, to help anyone in need. He encourages people to donate to the "Fines and Fees Fund" set up by his organization.

"For individuals who owe fines and fees to be able to seek relief from the courts in their judicial circuits, and have their fines and fees waved or converted to community-service hours," says Meade.

Meade expects the legal wrangling to take more than a year - and predicts the case could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL