Hillsborough State Attorney wants ‘rocket docket’ to restore felons’ voting rights

Lawmakers muddied the voting rights restored by Amendment 4. Andrew Warren has a plan for that.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren at a 2018 news conference. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren at a 2018 news conference. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published June 30, 2019

TAMPA — Last fall, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to felons who have completed their prison or probation sentences.

Then in the spring, the state Legislature said Amendment 4 only applies to people who do not still owe court fines and fees.

One of the only ways around that is for felons to ask a judge to waive those costs or convert them to community service hours.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren wants to make that happen en masse.

Warren said Saturday that his office is exploring the possibility of asking a judge to waive the court costs in favor of community service for a large number of cases.

The idea is to create a “rocket docket,” where a judge could eliminate the debts of hundreds or thousands of defendants, speeding up the process for those who want to register to vote.

“Our goal is to fulfill the promise of Amendment 4,” Warren told the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday. “The focus is on people with lower level crimes who have paid their debt to society.”

THE BUZZ: Ron DeSantis signs Amendment 4 bill, limiting felon voting

The plan is far from final, Warren said. But he has discussed the idea for the last few months with lawmakers and local government officials, including the Clerk of Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Department of Corrections, the Commission on Offender Review and Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, among others..

The challenge, Warren said, is to determine who might be eligible. There is no single database that keeps track of who owes money and how much. It’s still unclear when the effort might come to fruition.

“There is a fair amount of nuance to this,” Warren said. “We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way and following the law.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial bill Friday, which limits how many felons will be able to vote. Critics say the law amounts to a “poll tax,” and that it disenfranchises thousands of felons who registered to vote after Amendment 4 passed.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly sured to block the new law, arguing on behalf of several felons who registered to vote after the amendment passed but would lose that right again under the new law.

“It is not constitutional, it is not legal, and it is not right to deny people the right to vote because you can’t pay,” ACLU Florida executive director Micah Kubic told the Times. “What this bill does is reestablish a poll tax.”

The Amendment restored voting rights to felons, except those convicted of murder or sex offenses.

Contact Dan Sullivan at Follow @TimesDan.