A statewide group founded by former state representative and a candidate for attorney general last year, Sean Shaw, announced it is jumping into efforts to help ex-felons to register to vote under Amendment 4.
Shaw says his group, People Over Profits, will provide guidance to ex-felons who are seeking to regain their right to vote, including a network of legal aid attorneys who will offer free legal advice.
“Today, we are making a long-term commitment to supporting returning citizens,” Shaw said during a conference call announcing People Over Profits program. “The process to register to vote for thousands of ex-offenders can actually be speedy. We want to make sure the bureaucracy isn’t a barrier for a single person.”
Shaw says the network of attorneys who will provide legal advice is still growing ,but he didn’t have a number of attorneys who have signed-up, He did say attorneys are currently available in the Tallahassee, Tampa and Jacksonville areas.
“For thousands of others, though, who have fines, restitution and court costs to pay before they can register, there are other options that might be available to them, such as community services,” Shaw said. “We want to make sure that all of [the returning citizens consider all of their other options] and support the best and fastest path [to registering to vote].”
Last Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law an elections overhaul measure that includes requirements to implement Amendment 4, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 and automatically restores the voting rights of ex-felons who have paid their debt to society.
It’s estimated it could affect 1.4 million ex-felons in Florida. But, critics liken the implementing rules to a poll tax. They claim the financial requirements that ex-felons pay all of their court fees, fines and restitution create a financial barrier that will act as a roadblock preventing many ex-felons from registering to vote.
Shaw believes the implementing rules do not constitute a poll tax, but he says they fall short of the will of voters.
“Poll tax is a strong term that evokes some very specific racial overtones from the 60’s and 70’s and prior to that, so that’s a little strong for me to characterize the law as that,” Shaw said. ”But I don’t believe the law follows [the will] of what we the people were voting for.”
Shaw says People Over Profits’ assistance will include guides and graphs for ex-felons designed to help them navigate through the registration process. He says his group is operating independently of others working to help ex-felons to register.
Voting and civil rights groups have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the rules.
The Felons Right Restoration Coalition (FRRC), which led the push to pass the amendment, is raising money to help ex-felons pay their legal costs.
FRRC says it hopes to help pay off the fines, fees and restitution owed by an estimated 500,000 felons in the state. The group said Tuesday more than $700,000 has been collected. Its goal is to raise $3 million.
The group estimates billions of dollars are owed across the state.