Editorial: Tuesday is registration day for Florida felons

Amendment 4 takes effect, allowing more than a million citizens back into the democratic process.
Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition president Desmond Meade called Tuesday, the day Amendment 4 takes effect, a "solemn moment" for felons who can now register to vote. [BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times]
Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition president Desmond Meade called Tuesday, the day Amendment 4 takes effect, a "solemn moment" for felons who can now register to vote. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published January 7

Tampa Bay’s supervisors of elections responsibly recognize the clarity of Amendment 4, which automatically restores the right to vote for most felons in Florida who have completed their sentence. The amendment, approved by 64 percent of the voters in November, takes effect Tuesday and needs no further action from Tallahassee. Local supervisors’ offices are ground zero for this historic expansion of voting rights, and the region’s elections officials stand ready to ensure a smooth process.

A spokeswoman for Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer told the Tampa Bay Times’ Langston Taylor that “it was very clear that (Amendment 4) restores voting rights to all who have completed their terms of sentence, excluding those convicted of murder and sexual offenses.” Pasci Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley called it “crystal clear.” Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark declared her office will accept applications “from anyone who believes they are eligible to register to vote.” Contrast that common sense with the comments from state officials, including incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said the amendment shouldn’t take effect until the Legislature passes an implementing bill that he signs into law.

Nonsense. Amendment 4 plainly states that felons’ voting rights “shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” And as the ACLU has pointed out, applicants don’t have to prove their eligibility. Just as other applicants don’t have to prove they are at least 18 years old, felons don’t have to prove they have finished their sentences.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there shouldn’t be coordination among agencies and guidance for those seeking to register. Anyone who has not completed all the elements of their sentence is ineligible, and the state should make it easy for people with a felony record to check whether they have any outstanding court costs or other issues that need to be resolved before they can legally register to vote.

Amendment 4 could add more than 1 million new voters to the rolls, representing the fourth largest expansion of voting rights in U.S. history. It is a true tidal shift, after outgoing Gov. Rick Scott’s punitive clemency process created a huge backlog of applications from people seeking to win back their right to vote. Scott and the three members of the Cabinet, granted clemency to just a few hundred applicants every year. The Legislature, meanwhile, refused to take action on the issue and lend any uniformity to the process. That’s what inspired the grassroots movement that led to Amendment 4, and the clearest reason that legislative action isn’t needed now.

Desmond Meade, leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition that spearheaded the Amendment 4 campaign, said in a news conference that Tuesday should be “business as usual” at election supervisor’s offices, as new voter registration applications are processed. At the same time, he called it a “solemn moment” for those who have been disenfranchised. He’s right on both counts: Floridians who are qualified to become full participants again in democracy should have an utterly uneventful time registering to vote. The local supervisors of elections have wisely positioned themselves to make that happen instead of needlessly waiting for some puff of smoke from the mountaintop in Tallahassee.

Advertisement