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Here’s How Miami Is Fighting Against The Republican Party And Allowing Former Felons To Vote

There is positive news out of Florida that may affect the lives of countless former felons when it comes to voting rights. According to the Miami Herald, Miami-Dade has a plan in place to help felons restore their right to vote, even if they owe restitution or other fees. The plan, which was announced Monday by the county’s top prosecutor, public defender, and clerk of courts, would create a quicker system where state judges can override some financial penalties that would otherwise stop an ex-felon’s involvement in an election.

An estimated 150,000 former felons in Miami-Dade will be able to apply to the program allowing them to vote despite Republican Governor Ron DeSantis trying to limit their involvement.

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The plan, also referred to as a “rocket docket”, for its speedy disposition of cases and controversies that come before it, is expected to be put in use across Florida. This will include Broward and Palm Beach counties, where for years lack of voting rights for felons played a big role in local and national elections. 

“Make no mistake, this will be rolled out in every judicial district in Florida,” Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told the Miami Herald

If implemented, the plan could prevent a lack of sufficient money from becoming a stoppage to voting rights and would assist former felons to navigate through the courts.

“It isn’t anti-anybody. People like to paint it like that. It’s pro-people. It’s about doing something that’s right and it’s about doing what the law and the constitution say,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told CBS4. 

The plan won’t cover everyone with a felony conviction. An individual who owes restitution required as part of their sentence can’t be accepted, as well as anyone convicted outside of Miami-Dade County. A felon who is charged with murder or sex offenses can reinstate their voting rights only by petitioning Florida’s Board of Executive Clemency.

Back in November 2018, 64 percent of Floridians voted in favor of Amendment 4 that reinstated voting rights for former felons in the Sunshine State. Shortly after taking office as governor, DeSantis made threats against the amendment, despite the approval of Floridians. In order to curtail the democratic process that allowed ex-felons to regain their right to vote, the Republican-led Florida Congress, with approval from the governor’s office, added language forcing people to fully pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote.

The move to restrict those who can get their voting rights back has been called a poll tax.

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By forcing ex-felons to pya fines not tied to their punishment, the Florida Republican Party is forcing more than one million voters from registering. It is a clear attack on voters rights and voting rights activists are fighting back.

The plan is a long time coming for many in Florida who have been wanting to be a part of the political process. 

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Anthony Hannah is one of those ex-felons that wants to be able to have a voice in the political process in the 2020 presidential election. The Miami-Dade native told a local Florida news station that he was was sentenced to 12 years in prison for robbery and burglary back in 1992. He would appeal the case and would enter a plea without truly understanding the consequences of being classified as a habitual offender. 

After getting released in from jail in 2001, he steered clear of trouble until 2014 when he was accused of possession of marijuana. Even though Hannah wasn’t convicted of the crime, fees from the trail began to increase. The County Court put him on a payment plan and paid almost $470 in fees by 2015.  

Hannah is a perfect example of a voting system long-plagued with disadvantages, particularly when it comes to people of color in low-income communities. It was until last November, when Florida voters approved Amendment 4, allowing convicted felons who complete all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation, the right to vote, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.

There was one small detail to the amendment, state lawmakers added various fees, fines, and restitution. This went into effect back on July first.

“Over a million Floridians were supposed to reclaim their place in the democratic process, but some politicians clearly feel threatened by greater voter participation,” Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. 

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union,  have since filed federal lawsuits with hopes to get rid of the financial requirement section of the bill.

While there are still some obstacles to overcome, this is a step in the right direction. 

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Meade has been fighting for the bill for years and sees the latest amendment as a sign of things to come. After working on the law and adding specific language, judges can “modify” a sentence by moving  fines to community service hours or even stipulating that various financial fees won’t stop a convicted felon from registering to vote. 

“Court fines should not get in the way of voting,” Broward State Attorney Michael Satz said in a statement. “We are working on a final proposal to get this done in the best and simplest way. We expect to have a finalized plan in the next few weeks.”

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