MIAMI – National Voter Registration Day was marked on Tuesday by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
He is leading a $20 million initiative to help Florida’s ex-felons pay off their fines and fees so they can vote in November’s election.
Bloomberg saying in a statement:
“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right. Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”
William Freeman is 51 years old and told Local 10 News' Amy Viteri the August primary was the first time he voted in his life. He said community service and help from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition helped pay off his fines, enabling him to cast his ballot.
“It’s hard on every individual that’s coming out of prison to pay their court costs, pay their fines and fees,” Freeman said. “It was so exciting to know that as returning citizen, I had the right to vote and have my vote count.”
Freeman said he’s been convicted of grand theft several times, the crimes driven by a drug habit he battled for years.
The new funding comes days after a federal court ruled felons in Florida are ineligible to vote until outstanding debts are paid. This ruling comes despite overwhelming support in 2018 by Florida voters to restore rights to felons who have completed their sentence.
“They’re not going to take the money that they need to pay rent, food, put clothes on and take care of their family ahead of their being able to vote,” said Mitch Stone, President of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The question now is whether the funds will reach voters in time for the registration deadline on Oct. 5.
“It’s going to be close, and the reason I say that is it’s not always very clear what people owe,” said Stone.
How do felons get their rights restored?
If you were convicted of murder, or felony sexual offense, voting rights can only be restored through clemency. You can apply for clemency, search for grant of clemency and certificates, and/or find out more information about clemency, visit the website for the Florida Commission on Offender Review.
If you were convicted of any other felony, voting rights are restored upon completion of all terms of a sentence including parole or probation. You may also apply for clemency to restore your voting rights.
To see if you have completed all the terms of your sentence including parole or probation, you can contact the Florida Department of Corrections, and /or the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction(s) in which you were convicted whether that be a circuit court in Florida, a court in another state, or a federal court.