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Sixteen former felons here have applied to restore their voting rights as of late Wednesday, Jan. 9 – the day after Florida's Constitutional Amendment 4 kicked into effect.
Elections Supervisor Marty Bishop expects that more individuals with former felony convictions will likely be applying for the restoration of their voting rights in the coming days and weeks.
Bishop said he couldn't say exactly how many individuals in Jefferson County might be eligible for the restoration of their voting rights. His best guess, he said, was based on a report for the last two years, which put the number at about 60 people.
But that number, Bishop said, didn't take into account individuals who had convictions from years earlier and whose rights hadn't been restored by the Clemency Review Board.
“It could be a heap more,” Bishop said.
Amendment 4, which Florida voters overwhelmingly approved by 64 percent last
November, went into effect on Tuesday, Jan. 8. The amendment automatically restores the voting rights of individuals with felony convictions if they meet certain stipulated requirements.
Those requirements are that the individual have completed all the terms of their sentences, including parole or probation. The amendment does not apply to individuals convicted of murder or sexual offenses. The latter must have their cases heard individually by the Clemency Review Board.
Bishop said that to register, individuals have simply to come to the elections office and fill out the voter registration card. His office will then forward the information to the Division of Elections in the Florida Department of State, and it's up to the latter to do the research and determine if the applicant meets all the requirements, he said.
“We're going to process whoever comes,” Bishop said. “It's up to the state to decide if they meet the criteria.”
The change in the law resulted from from the efforts of religious, social justice and civil liberties groups, which pushed for the second-chance measure. Florida was of a few remaining states that didn't restore voting rights to convicts after the completion of their sentences.
Despite passage of the amendment and that election officials are proceeding with the registrations, however, some issues remain.
One is that the state and courts have yet to clarify what constitutes “all the terms” of a sentence. It's reportedly unclear at this point if ex-offenders with outstanding court costs not ordered by a judge as part of the sentence can register to vote. The amendment also doesn’t define which crimes constitute sexual offenses.
Experts says the burden in on the state to do its due diligence and remove from the rolls any individuals who are determined to be ineligible.
Too, Governor Ron DeSantis, before taking office this week, said last month that he wanted to postpone implementation of Amendment 4 until lawmakers had a chance to review it when the Florida Legislature convened in March. That idea, however, received immediate pushback from advocates of the amendment, including the Florida League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The two organizations maintain that the measure was designed to be self-implementing, which is the interpretation that elections supervisors across the state are following.
The new law has the potential to affect about 1.4 million former, nonviolent felons across in the state.
To register to vote, individuals are urged to visit their local elections office or go online at registertovoteflorida.gov.