TALLAHASSEE, FL – Voting-rights advocates say they’re working to keep the momentum going, registering Floridians with felony convictions so they can vote in future elections. Conflicting court rulings and confusing records were just a few hurdles they faced on Election Day, as Republican lawmakers sought to restrict the return of 1.4 million former felons by requiring they pay all fines and fees before they could vote.
Some local elections officials, including in Broward County, said they had to rely on an “honor system” that anyone restored to vote was eligible. Despite the confusion, Neil Volz – deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition – said his group is proud of the outcome.
“We think returning citizens were an undeniable winner in this year’s election,” said Volz, “as over 50,000 people who were unable to vote because of a past felony conviction just two years ago were able to experience democracy in this year’s election.”
Florida Secretary of State Laura Lee and Gov. Ron DeSantis both praised the state’s trouble-free election, but they have yet to address the process that left elections supervisors to overlook the fines-and-fees requirements without clear guidance from the state.
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Volz said the State of Florida is simply unprepared to carry out its own restrictions. He added that the requirement to pay fines and fees doesn’t apply to all returning citizens, because some could’ve received a sentence modification by a judge, or might have been granted voting rights through the Clemency Process, which doesn’t require they be paid in full.
“In many respects, the government is acknowledging that they cannot tell people with 100% certainty what their situation is,” said Volz, “and then expecting them to be able to know with 100% certainty what their situation is.”
Volz said his group will continue to encourage everyone to vote. It offers legal assistance to anyone in doubt about their eligibility. Voting without being qualified to do so is a crime – but if the Division of Elections finds a voter is potentially ineligible, a written notice is sent to the voter, who then has 30 days to respond before any action is taken.