State attorney proposes rocket docket to help felons restore voting rights

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Days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that adds restrictions to the recently-passed felon voting rights amendment, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren revealed plans that could be a work-around for a number of felons.

The bill signed into law Friday requires felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before they are able to vote again. Republican lawmakers said they viewed this as part of a criminal's sentence.

Opponents, however, accused supporters of the bill of enacting a "poll tax" because a lot of felons can't afford to pay those costs.

"Amendment Four stated that once you completed your time that you can vote. Right? You can register to vote, so now they're saying we can't vote because we owe fees? I don't think that's right," said Carolyn Clark, who spent 10 years in prison on a robbery conviction. She has been free for five years and voted for the first time this year. "We are citizens, citizens that did wrong, citizens that have straightened our life out and we deserve a chance. Our voices deserve to be heard."

Warren is looking into the feasibility of what's known as a rocket docket, where a large group of people appear before a judge at the same time regarding the same issue.

"We can then convert those fines and fees to community service," he explained. "We're going to facilitate that process for them by taking large groups of people and we can do it sort of in this 'rocket docket,' where we have all these people come into court and have their fines and fees converted to community service."

Warren said not every felon would be eligible.

"The class of crimes that we're looking at are largely going to be victimless or crimes where that restitution has already been paid," he said. "This is really making sure that we don't have two classes of citizens: people who can afford the right to vote and people who can't."

The state attorney wants to have the details ironed out by the end of the year so as many voters as possible can be registered for the 2020 election.