Tens of thousands of felon voters will cast their votes in this election, but getting to the ballot box hasn’t been easy for many of them who owe fines and fees.
What You Need To Know
- Numerous organizations are helping felons excercise their right to vote.
- Some groups are offering to pay off fines and fees.
- More than 30,000 felons have registered to vote since amendment four passed in 2018, according to our partners the Tampa Bay Times.
After being released from a Florida prison in August, Scott Williams found out about the network of agencies in the Bay area willing to help people in his situation.
Scott Williams spends his days educating voters on amendments on the ballot.
Williams said he got help with housing at a local shelter, mental health counseling, and he even got help getting his ID. It’s something he says was a lot harder than he first expected.
“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. 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,” Williams said.
Sarah Nelson and the attorneys 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 said. “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.”
And that’s where the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition comes in offering to pay some of those fines and fees.
“We were able to raise 27 million dollars, spend 27 million dollars to break that barrier down for nearly 40 thousand returning citizens in the state of Florida,” said FRRC Deputy Director, Neil Volz.
Michael Jalazo with People Empowering and Restoring communities, also known as PERC, said the work this network of people are doing for felons benefits everyone.
“These are people,” Jalazo said. “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.”
Better for the community and better for people like Williams who won’t be able to vote in this election but is determined to make sure everyone else does. He works for an organization that registers people to vote and educates voters about amendments on the ballot.
“I’m doing now really what I dreamed of doing while I was in prison. I’m helping people register to vote,” Williams said. “I had been in prison for 14 years. I decided that with the rest of my life I want to help people out because I’ve experienced a lot.”
More than 30,000 felons have registered to vote since amendment four passed in 2018, according to our partners at 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.