TREASURE COAST - Florida Amendment 4, the Voting Restoration Amendment, took effect on Jan. 8. Amend. 4 restores the right to vote for people with felony convictions, except murder or sexual offenses, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.
Until now, Florida was one of only four states where convicted felons did not regain the right to vote unless a state officer or board restored the individual's voting rights. That restriction dated back to the Florida state constitutions of 1885 and 1868, repeated in the 1968 Florida Constitution.
Estimates of the number of Floridians who can now regain the right to vote range from 1.4 million people calculated by the non-profit Public Citizen to 1.6 million people, 10.43 percent of the voting age population, estimated by a non-profit organization called The Sentencing Project.
To illustrate how consequential such numbers can be, in the 2016 presidential election Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent in Florida. In 2012, the presidential election margin of victory in Florida was only 0.9 percent. Increasing Florida’s voter registration rolls by anything close to 10 percent could dramatically affect future elections.
The Voting Restoration Amendment passed with 64.55 percent approval this past November. The “yes” votes numbered 5,148,926, versus 2,828,339 (35.45 percent) saying “no”.
Incoming Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Ken Detzner argued that the Florida State Legislature needed to first pass implementing legislation before Amend. 4 could take effect. That would mean a wait until at least March 5, when the legislature convenes, barring those with restored voting rights from voting in any local elections requiring registration before that date, such as the upcoming special election for Vero Beach City Council.
Amend. 4 proponents responded that the amendment’s language is self-executing and does not require implementing legislation.
Supervisors of Elections in counties throughout Florida appeared to agree that the language of the amendment does not require legislative action. Many county Supervisors of Elections announced plans to immediately begin registering those who have been removed due to felony convictions.
In Indian River County, Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan urged people affected to register, and not to just presume they can vote now without a completed registration.
“I would like those affected by this new law to be aware that if you have previously been removed from the voter rolls due to a felony conviction you must re-register in order to vote,” Ms. Swan told Hometown News. “Anyone removed from the voter rolls must complete a new voter registration application, either on-line, in-person, or submit an application by mail. My fear is that individuals removed from the voter rolls due to a felony conviction are under the impression that they will automatically be placed on the voter rolls. Without re-registering these people will be disappointed if they show up to vote and there name is not on the voter rolls.”
Asked if newly registered or re-registered voters would be able to vote in the upcoming special City Council election in Vero Beach, Ms. Swan said they would, even if they were not eligible to vote on that race’s original election date in November.
“A voter must be registered to vote 29 days before an election which is the book closing date,” Ms. Swan said. “If a convicted felon has completed his/her incarceration, paid their restitution and completed their probation, and registers to vote prior to the book closing date, then they are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.”
Ms. Swan added that applications from convicted felons who have met all requirements would be processed in Indian River County beginning Jan. 8.
The Supervisor of Elections in each Treasure Coast county will have information available on their website and during voter registration drives to assist individuals who become newly eligible to vote as a result of Amend. 4. For more information, contact the Office of the Governor at (850) 488-7146 or your county Supervisor of Elections office.