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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Respect voter intent on felons' rights

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, faces a crowd of people with former felony convictions during a rally on the steps of the historic old Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday. The group was chanting, "our voice, our vote." [Emily L. Mahoney | Times]
Published Mar. 15

Florida voters were crystal clear in November when nearly 65 percent of the electorate supported Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights for all felons except those convicted of murder or a felony sex crime. So why are state lawmakers ignoring the voters by looking to expand the list of crimes that could keep Floridians from the voting booth?

The new constitutional protection took effect Jan. 8, and elections officials are registering new voters in droves, reflecting the backward nature of Florida's old clemency process and the public clamor for moving forward. But in the Capitol this week, Republican lawmakers maneuvered to rewrite the election. Under the guise of drafting language to clarify the law, which is abundantly clear, one key senator wondered aloud what "murder" really means. "The question is, 'What does it include?' " said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "Obviously murder — first degree, second degree — to me, that means attempted murder, because there's intent."

Attempted murder is not murder anymore than red is black, up is down or night is day. They are two entirely separate crimes under Florida statutes. And the amendment that voters supported was crystal clear. Felons would have their voting rights automatically restored upon the completion of all terms of their sentence unless they were "convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense."

The only relevant issue is what the ballot language said, and it included no mention of "attempted" murder or intent or any other weasel word that would authorize lawmakers to broaden the exception. Lawmakers should respect the people's will.

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