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Many ex-Florida felons still wonder if they will be able to vote

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Posted at 4:41 PM, Oct 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-31 06:26:23-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A state task force released a list of recommendations Wednesday afternoon aimed at helping ex-felons figure out if they're eligible to vote. It comes after a new law tweaked Amendment Four, requiring inmates pay all fees, fines and restitution before registering.

A recent court ruling is clouding what was expected to be clarity on the issue.

For former felon turned pastor, Greg James, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s injunction is a godsend.Though it technically affects only the 17 individuals filing suit against the state’s new law — James sees it as a step forward for hundreds of thousands of Florida felons who can’t pay to vote. “Even if you’ve got a fine— poor people matter. That’s what the judge said.”

Fueled by optimism, the ruling has James on the road— traveling the state to encourage other ex-inmates to register ahead of 2020.“We have become the most valuable group in the state of Florida," said James with Greg James Ministries.

For election officials, it's a different story. A new headache.

“As of today— this is a very challenging process for us," said Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

A state task force just released 18 recommendations to lawmakers aimed at improving how Florida can determine if ex-felons have paid fines owed. It includes more bureaucrats, work for Clerk of Court offices and centralizing data. But, the weeks of work may need to be tossed if the judge’s decision becomes permanent at the lawsuit’s end.

“We’re still reviewing the potential impact of judge Hinkle’s order," said Lee.

Florida’s secretary of state saying they’re waiting to see what happens before acting. “We’ll await any further clarification from the court or the legislature.”

But time is ticking as Election Day 2020 grows closer and closer. Many ex-felons left in limbo are wondering if they’ll be able to vote.

James is telling them to have faith. “We got to fight. We got to register. We have got to make our voices heard.”

The class-action suit challenging the new voting law is set to begin in Florida’s Northern District in April. Based on the injunction, some lawmakers are already considering tweaking the policy in the upcoming session.