The Hillsborough State Attorney's office is starting a program aimed at giving convicted felons back their right to vote. And it revolves around money.
Amendment 4 was passed by voters in 2018. It allows people with felony convictions to regain their voting rights after they complete their sentences. But state lawmakers tacked on a provision that requires them to pay off existing fees first. So many ex-felons who can't afford it, can't vote.
So Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has teamed with the group that drafted Amendment 4. They will create a process to have an attorney review what financial barriers ex-felons face, and get help in paying it off.
"The idea that Amendment Four would be limited only to people who can afford it is unfair, it's un-American, and it's unacceptable," Warren said. "Floridians made their voices heard when they passed Amendment 4. Democracy works better when everyone is involved. And returning citizens who have the right to vote restored are less likely to re-offend. This process strengthens our democracy, and it makes our community safer."
"Anyone who has a question revolving around their financial obligations should apply," she said. "The process is simple - we send everything over to the public defender's office, where an attorney actually reviews the financial obligations to determine what are barriers to voting."
Anyone who has a question about their financial obligations is invited to apply, through the websites of the state attorney's office or the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
According to the state attorney's office, here's how it works:
After you complete the application to have your voting rights restored, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition with work with you to gather the necessary information to determine your eligibility. If your application demonstrates that you are unable to pay the financial terms of your sentence, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition will forward your information to Hillsborough’s Office of the Public Defender. The Public Defender will review the information with you and prepare an appropriate motion for the Court to review. The Court will then determine if your sentence is eligible for modification for purposes of restoring your voting rights. If the Court approves, then a copy of the Court’s Order will be provided to Hillsborough’s Supervisor of Elections, and you will be able register to vote.