Ken Burke, the Pinellas County Clerk and Comptroller, announced 290 people with felony convictions have contacted the Clerk, and have been able to pay the assessed fines and fees in order to restore their right to vote.
The Pinellas County Clerk of Court Office has collected $298,629 in felon fees and fines, according to a news release, although it did not specify a span of time nor how many people contributed to that amount. The office’s announcement follows a decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the state could require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees before they can regain their right to vote.
The money from these fines and fees is distributed based on the statutory fee and fine schedule, which includes broad categories of distribution such as to the State of Florida, the Clerks of Court State Trust Fund, Pinellas County, and local municipalities, among others.
When inquiring about the amount due in order to have voting rights restored, Burke says it is important to identify the inquiry as related to voting rights, since the amount usually differs from the total amount due.
That’s due to several factors, including probation violations that could alter the amount due in order to have voting rights restored, as well as if the court allowed for community service hours to offset fees. Also, if the Court modified the original sentencing document, the calculation of the modification must be taken into account.
There are also several items not necessary in order for the restoration of voting rights, including statutory late fees, collection fees as prescribed by statute, interest on a civil judgment related to the fines and fees and fines and fees assessed on a withhold of adjudication.
“In Pinellas, we have provided training to our call center and criminal court customer service staff on the proper handling of inquiries related to the amounts due to satisfy the restoration of voting rights requirement,” Burke said in a news release. “The court’s dissenting opinion and some news stories have pointed out confusion when inquiring as to the amount due, and we have put training in place to minimize this.”
Although ultimately the Supervisor of Elections and the Secretary of State are responsible for determining a person’s eligibility to vote, the Clerk is responsible for collecting balances due.
The recent ruling by the Atlanta-based appeals court overturned a district judge’s ruling, which said the state cannot deny the right to vote to felons who are “genuinely unable to pay” court-ordered debts.
Floridians already voted on the issue with 64% voting in favor of a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored non-violent felon voting rights after they completed their sentences. The legal dispute arose after lawmakers looked to define what it means to complete a sentence, siding with the state that returning felons must satisfy all court fines and fees and restitution before rights are restored.
About a third of the state’s 1.4 million convicted felons who are unable to vote are Black. If all 1.4 million eligible former felons registered to vote, they would make up roughly 10% of the voting population in the state, according to ABC news.
A statewide Best Practice was adopted after careful study, and a recommended uniform payoff form was developed.
A listing of the key contact phone number and email address for each Clerk’s office is also in the process of being compiled to help Pinellas County residents making an inquiry related to a felony conviction in another county quickly.