Returning Citizen – Voting Restoration
Community Legal Services (CLS) can provide legal assistance to eligible customers who believe their right to vote may have been affected by a criminal conviction. The Voting Rights community refer to these individuals as Returning Citizens.
In 2018, Floridians voted to pass Constitutional Amendment 4 with 64.55% of the vote. This Constitutional Amendment proposed to restore the voting rights of Returning Citizens once they had completed their sentences, with the notable exception of those individuals convicted of homicide or sexual offenses.
In 2019, the Florida State Legislature passed a law that required that Returning Citizens must complete “all terms of sentence” including full payment of restitution, or any fines, fees, or costs resulting from conviction before they can regain their right to vote.
CLS recognizes that denial of an individual’s right to vote is a time-sensitive issue and the need for help is immediate. If you would like assistance to determine the status of your voting rights, you should contact the CLS HELPline at 1-800-405-1417 to obtain free legal advice about these issues. Also please review the following topics which may assist you in determining the status of your voting rights and what actions you can take to ensure your right to vote.
Voting Rights after Incarceration
A person in Florida can lose their right to vote when they receive a felony conviction. If you are a Returning Citizen and unsure of whether you were adjudicated guilty, you can go to your local courthouse and ask the Clerk of Court for details about your criminal record. Request a copy of the Judgement and Sentence for any conviction you have received. The Judgement and Sentence should indicate if you were adjudicated guilty of a felony offense. If you are unsure if the offense was a felony, locate the statute number for the crime and look up the statute online or at your local library.
The following situations are NOT felony convictions:
- An adjudication of guilt as to a misdemeanor offense;
- An adjudication of delinquency in juvenile court, whether misdemeanor or felony;
- A withhold of adjudication of a felony and probation was successfully completed; or
- A pre-trial intervention or diversion program resulting in dismissal of charges.
The following special circumstances would be considered a felony conviction:
- An adjudication of guilt as to a felony offense as a result of a revocation of probation, even if there was originally a withhold of adjudication given at the time of original sentencing;
- An adjudication of guilt as to a felony of offense as a minor, if the minor was prosecuted in adult Court;
- A person who failed a pre-trial intervention or diversion program and there was an adjudication of guilt as a result; or
- Any similar charge from another state that would be a felony in the state of Florida.
If you would like assistance to determine the status of your voting rights, you should contact the CLS HELPline at 1-800-405-1417 to obtain no cost legal advice about these issues.
The government requires that Returning Citizens complete “all terms of sentence,” including full payment of restitution, or any fines, fees, or costs resulting from the conviction before they can regain their right to vote. An attempt to try to register to vote when not eligible to vote could result in further criminal prosecution for voter fraud, so it is very important to understand these requirements and fines before registering to vote.
If you are a Returning Citizen who is unsure whether you still owe money to the Court or to the former victim in the form of restitution, visit the local county courthouse and ask the Clerk of Court for details about your sentence. Ask for a certified judgement and sentence, and an accounting of any monies owed. Each county has a separate Clerk’s website that may provide information.
If you owe restitution to a former criminal victim and cannot pay, the former victim could sign a notarized statement waiving their right to restitution or stating that restitution has been satisfied. However, it can be very painful to both the Returning Citizen and former victim to be reminded of that time in their life, so discretion is encouraged. If you obtain the waiver, go to the Court and file a motion to Determine Financial Obligation and attach the statement. If you are unable to pay your other financial obligations, please review the section on “Court Actions.”
If the Returning Citizen is unable to pay their financial obligations, they should file one of the following two motions:
Motion to Determine Financial Obligations: If the Clerk is unable to assist the Returning Citizen in determining what financial obligations are still owed, the Returning Citizen may file this motion in all relevant criminal cases so the Court can clarify what is owed.
Motion to Modify Sentence: If the Returning Citizen cannot pay the financial obligations owed, the Returning Citizen may file this motion to reduce or convert the obligations to community service.
If you would like advice on filing such a motion, you should contact the CLS HELPline at 1-800-405-1417 to obtain free legal advice about these issues.
If you are a Returning Citizen and unsure if you have been convicted of a felony or owe a financial obligation, another available option is to file a Request for Advisory Opinion. The advisory opinion comes from Florida’s Department of State, Division of Elections, which is not the same thing as you local supervisor of elections. You can find the form and address to send the form at this link: Request for Advisory Opinion
Because it could take time for the state to process your request, do your own investigation into any fines, fees, or costs related to incarceration that you still owe. If you are a Returning Citizen and know you have been convicted of felony offenses, owe money, and in what counties those convictions took place, you may want to move forward with the investigation without waiting for a response to your Request for Advisory Opinion.
When Floridians voted to restore the voting rights of most people convicted of felonies, specific exceptions to the amendment were made to individuals convicted of homicide or sexual offenses. The following is a list of offenses that, if convicted of, you would not be eligible for restore your right to vote.
Murder (782.04(1), (2), or (3))
Sexual Battery (794.011 excluding paragraph (10))
Traveling to Meet a Minor (847.0135 excluding paragraph (6))
Selling or Buying of Minors, Racketeering (if sexual activity involved)
Sexual Offense by Private Corrections Officer (944.35(3)(b)2)
Additionally, any offense similar to those above, even if from another state.
If convicted of any of the “murder” or “felony sexual offenses” above, the Returning Citizen is disqualified, and their only recourse to restore their voting rights would be to apply for clemency through the governor’s office. If you need to apply for clemency, you may find the information here: Florida Commission on Offender Review.