A recent Federal Court decision affirmed the Florida Statutes requiring an individual with a felony conviction to complete all terms of a felony sentence, including payment of all court fines, fees, and restitution, in order for that individual’s voting rights to be restored. Although the administration of voting eligibility and registration is under the purview of the Supervisor of Elections and the Secretary of State, Clerks play a role in providing individuals with felony convictions with the information needed to satisfy the amounts due under their sentences.
Ken Burke, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, reached out to key policy makers in Florida to explain how this process is working in Pinellas County. To date, 290 people with felony convictions have contacted the Clerk, and have been able to pay the assessed fines and fees that were part of their sentences.
A total of $298,629.18 has been collected by the Pinellas Clerk’s office. The distribution of these fines and fees is complex 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.
The process is working as the legislature intended, following the language of the Florida Constitution. “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,” stated Clerk Burke. “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.”
It is important when an inquiry is made for “amounts due” to identify the inquiry as related to voting rights, as the amount may—and usually does— differ from the total amount due for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include:
The following items are not included in the amount due for voting rights restoration:
- Statutory late fees
- Collection fees as prescribed by statute
- Interest on a civil judgment related to the fines and fees
- Fines and fees assessed on a withhold of adjudication
- Violations of probation which may change a withhold of adjudication to a guilty verdict must be included in the amount due for voting rights restoration.
- If the court allowed for community service hours to offset fines and fees, the Clerk must calculate the amount of that deduction.
- If the Court modified the original sentencing document, the calculation of the modification must be taken into account.
Clerk Burke clarified that in Pinellas, “staff has taken these factors and others into consideration to properly calculate the amount due to satisfy voting rights restoration requirements. Although somewhat complex, we have set up the procedures to comply with the statutes as passed by the Legislature and make this process as efficient as possible.”
The Clerks of Florida have been proactive on this matter. 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. This will help Pinellas County residents making an inquiry related to a felony conviction in another county quickly locate the proper contact for that Clerk’s office.
The Supervisor of Elections and the Secretary of State are responsible for determining a person’s eligibility to vote. “As Clerk, it is my responsibility to make efforts to collect amounts assessed by the Court,” stated Clerk Burke. To date, 290 Pinellas citizens formerly convicted of a felony have paid the amounts due on their sentences and have fulfilled this important step toward having their voting rights restored, as called for by the Constitution.