Three Florida state attorneys trying to help felons vote, despite new FL law

early voting booth

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says he is working on a plan similar to ones rolled out by state attorneys in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties that would make it easier for felons who have served their sentences to vote.

The state attorneys are trying to work around a law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month that says that felons can’t vote if they still owe fines, fees or restitution.

The law – dubbed a “poll tax” – has  spurred several legal challenges. Last fall, voters approved Constitutional Amendment 4 to automatically restore voting rights to felons (except those convicted of murder or sex crimes). Then, in the spring, the Florida Legislature decided to add a controversial  provision requiring felons to pay fees and fines in an “implementing bill,” and DeSantis signed it into law.

On Monday, Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced a program to help people who can’t afford fines and fees to file a motion with the court asking a judge to modify their sentence. The plan also would allow people who are on a payment plan but can’t finish paying off their financial commitment to go to court for a speedy case review.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with State Attorney Fernandez Rundle about her office’s proposal,” Aronberg said in a statement Monday. He added that he is “encouraged by Miami-Dade’s approach to this issue and am optimistic that we can develop something similar in Palm Beach County that fulfills the promise of Amendment 4.”

Fernandez Rundle and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren are the only state attorneys in Florida so far to come up with an alternative for those citizens who thought that they had won back the right to vote last fall after nearly 65 percent of Floridians supported Amendment 4.

Warren was the first state attorney to announce an alternative plan for felons seeking the right to vote. He is proposing a “rocket docket” for mostly low-level offenders who would go before a judge and have the judge convert those fines into community service.

As in the case in Miami-Dade County, Hillsborough County offenders who still owe restitution to a victim would not be eligible for a waiver.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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