Florida’s Former Felons Are Casting Early Ballots | National

Florida’s Former Felons Are Casting Early Ballots | National

Tens of thousands of former felons in Florida will be able to cast their ballots this election. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says they were able to raise $27 million and restore the voting rights of nearly 40,000 people.

Michael Jalazo of People Empowering and Restoring Communities said former felons voting benefits everyone.

“These are people,” Jalazo told Bay News 9. “They’ve paid their debt to society. And what we’re about is giving people second chances, and it’s better for you if we give people second chances. That’s certainly important in the heart, but if someone has an opportunity to make a living wage and pay rent and pay utilities and they become tax-paying citizens, this is better for our community.”

Scott Williams, was released from a Florida prison in August and found a network of agencies in his community were willing to help people in his situation. Now he spends his days educating voters on amendments on the ballot.

“The Bay Area, they stepped up. Everything that I didn’t know or learn in prison, they didn’t ask any questions when I got out,” Williams told Bay News 9.“They see I needed the help, they grabbed me and said ‘come on. You want to do the right thing. We’re gonna help you.” 

Sarah Nelson, an attorney at Gulfcoast Legal, helped Williams and others like him find out what fines or fees they owe and to see if they’re eligible to vote.

“We can contact the appropriate clerk of the court,” Nelson told the news outlet. “We find out how much they still owe in fees or fines associated with the criminal charge itself, and then we figure out if they’re able to make a payment plan, if they’re employed, if they’re going to be able to become employed.”

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More than 30,000 felons have registered to vote since 2018, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Last month an appeals court ruled felons have to pay all fines and fees before they can legally cast their ballot.

In September, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg raised over $16 million in order to pay the fines and fees for formerly incarcerated people to vote in Florida.