Florida Lawmakers Stall Process To Restore Voting Rights To Felons

Written by Ann Brown

Lawmakers in Florida are dragging their feet on Amendment 4, despite voters in the midterm elections approving a measure that would restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences and finished their parole or probation.

The state needs more time before it actually restores felons’ voting rights, according to some lawmakers. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis wants to have “implementing language” approved by the state legislature before signing off on the measure. Since the language in the measure does not require legislative approval, many say this is a stall tactic. De Santis has said that some of the wording in the measure is confusing.

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The measure won approval by 64.5 percent of voters during the 2018 election. Convicted murderers and sex offenders are excluded. There is a deadline of Jan. 8 so that felons can vote, but the legislature does not return to session until March. 

“The amendment is self-executing,” said Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, in the New-Journal. “There is no role for the Legislature to play. The ballot language was designed so there would not be the need for anyone to get involved. It was upheld by the Supreme Court of Florida.”

The amendment would restore voting rights to more than 1.5 million felons.

In this, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018 photo, Yvette Demerit puts on a pin-back button in support of Amendment 4 at the Ben & Jerry’s “Yes on 4” truck where people learned about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. Amendment 4 asks voters to restore the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. More than 1.5 million adults in Florida are ineligible to vote because they have felony convictions. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In Florida, 23 percent of African-American adults cannot vote due to a previous felony conviction, Business Insider reported. Amendment 4, the measure that would change that, received wide support among residents in a state with strict clemency laws. It was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 8.

“It says that voting rights ‘shall be restored.’ I don’t know what is unclear about that,” said Howard Simon, recently retired executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, ond NPR. Simon helped draft the ballot amendment. “We worked a year and a half on this language, intentionally, to say that there is no role for politicians, people in the legislature, people in the governor’s office, people in the secretary of state’s office.”

One of the benefits for moving forward with the measure in Florida is that it is expected to decrease crime.

Voting rights have been restored for felons in Massachusetts and Hawaii following their release from prison. In Colorado and Connecticut, felons must first complete their parole and former felons in New Jersey and Texas must no longer on parole or probation in order to vote again.