Dedicated champions of voting rights restoration for felons who have completed their sentences and community members interested in learning the latest status of that effort gathered at the Second Baptist Church in Miami for a Voting Rights Restoration Town Hall on July 29 to share insights about the initiative and next steps for those whom the new law affects.
Speakers included Rep. Kionne McGhee, FL House Dist. 117; Sen. Annette Taddeo, FL Senate Dist. 40; Desmond Meade, Executive Director, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; and Katherine Fernandez Rundle, State Attorney, 11th Judicial Circuit, Miami-Dade County.
Amendment 4 for voting rights restoration was passed by an overwhelming majority of Florida voters in the November 2018 election.
“Prior to Amendment 4, everyone convicted of a felony in Florida lost the right to vote for life,” Meade said. “Amendment 4 removed that lifetime ban.”
Meade explained that proponents of the initiative were always aware that fines and restitution were part of “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation” that had to be completed before a former felon’s rights were restored.
Under the bill approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor DeSantis, someone with a felony conviction can pay off the financial obligation in full, have it waived by the court or individual to which it is owed, or have it converted into community service. About 860,000 former felons are affected by the legislation.
“This is about honoring the law,” said Fernandez-Rundle. “The Constitution is the highest law.” She pointed out that felons who register to vote have a markedly lower recidivism rate.
Fernandez-Rundle explained that a sentencing document is actually two separate documents: the sentencing document and the judgment document. To register, citizens have to comply with the sentence and restitution and to pay fines and fees—but no interest.
While they do not have to provide documentation to register to vote, returning citizens should verify their status before doing so. However, those who check the wrong box will not be prosecuted.
Meade urges returning citizens to contact the FRRC for questions about their status or if they feel they are being threatened or harassed about their attempt to regain their voting rights. Call 1-877-MYVOTE0 (698-6830) or visit the FRRC online at floridarcc.com or wegotthevote.org. FRRC holds Second Chances events every month and is collaborating with the Miami-Dade State Attorney and Public Defender’s office to assist returning citizens who face difficulties in paying their obligations.
“We are at a pivotal moment,” said Meade. “We must move forward in a way that protects people’s rights and dignity.”