For many ex-cons in Florida, Tuesday marked a brand new year and a new way of life. Voting rights were restored to more than 1.2 million felons in the state.
This is all thanks to Amendment 4. It allows many citizens of Florida to vote in elections as soon as their jail or prison sentences are complete.
However, people with sex offender records of murder convictions are still not allowed to vote under the new state bill.
Amendment 4 Restores Voting Rights to Floridian Ex-Felons
Amendment 4 was long-awaited by ex-convicts, their loved ones and prison advocates. Before it was enacted, a felony conviction meant voting rights in Florida were revoked permanently.
The only way around it was to get the FL state clemency board on your side. And that meant overcoming some major odds as well as common stereotypes about felons.
As soon as citizens were convicted of felony crimes, their voting rights were automatically taken away from them. Eventually, over 1.5 million people were former felons with no rights to vote in any local, state or federal election.
But in November 2016, Florida’s voters decided to restore the right to vote to every former felon whose conviction wasn’t related to murder or sex offenses.
Florida’s voters passed Amendment for with a 64% of the vote.
Local official U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist spoke about the amendment, showing his full support. The St. Petersburg Democrat said:
This is about forgiveness and second chances for all of us.
Local Politicians Pushed for Amendment 4
According to his supporters, Crist has always been a hard politician to read.
During the 1990s, he crusaded for even tougher laws regarding early releases from Florida state prisons. He pushed for legislation that requires all convicted inmates to serve 85% of their sentences before releases.
Yet, when it comes to ex-felons and voting rights, he’s all about forgiveness. He was instrumental in the clemency rules revisions that automatically gave certain felons back their voting rights after time served.
Governor Rick Scott later essentially canceled the entire bill.
So, Crist was determined to get the Florida Amendment 4 second chance law passed.
Luis Viera, a local council member for the City of Tampa believes permanently stripping ex-convicts of their rights to vote is a:
…long pattern of discrimination at the ballot box.
In an earlier phase of his career in the 1990s, Crist also pushed tough-on-crime legislation that banned early release before an inmate served 85 percent of their sentence.
Tampa City Council member Luis Viera said Amendment 4 is a step in rectifying a long pattern of discrimination at the ballot box.
Florida: Voting Helps Citizens Feel Whole
Neil Volz is a formerly incarcerated man in the Sunshine State. He hasn’t voted in an election in over 10 years… not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t have the right.
He told News-Press that he feels like a full citizen again.
A grass-roots campaign successfully helped volunteers collect the number of signatures needed to get the amendment on the November 2016 ballot. Amendment 4 set out to amend a monumental portion of the Florida Constitution.
Volz was instrumental in that campaign.
The Fort Meyers voter hopes the new state amendment will cause ex-cons to want to go out and vote. He believes even those with voting rights should be inspired by the new bill, saying:
This is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of folks and the love of people from the state of Florida to allow folks like me with past felony convictions to vote again.
The last time I was able to vote was 2004. That was before Facebook – that was a whole lifetime ago for me. So I’m looking forward to being a positive member of the community, and engaging with my vote to the best of my ability.
Amendment 4 Voter Registration Eligibility Requirements
Many ex-felons in Florida are unsure about some of the terms of the bill. It’s seems to be difficult to figure out just who qualifies and who doesn’t.
But the state isn’t letting that stop new incoming applications to vote. Applications are being accepted from any state citizen who declares eligibility to vote.
For applicants who aren’t actually eligible, that will be sorted out later (before the next election).
Collier County elections supervisor spokeswoman Heather Doan confirmed that people with previous felony convictions do NOT have to mention their records when registering to vote.
No one will ask. And there will be no box to check identifying a past criminal record.
All Floridian ex-cons have to do to register to vote is simply affirm that their rights to vote have been restored on the state’s voter registration form.
Paying Taxes without Voting Rights
John Young is a 52-year-old man who lost his right to vote 25 years ago due to a felony drug conviction. Tuesday, he wore his white registered voter sticker with great pride.
Young has worked for the US postal service for years now.
The newly registered voter said he thinks it’s ridiculous that his prior felony conviction didn’t stop him from getting a US federal government job, but he still couldn’t legally vote in the US.
This means he has been paying local, state and federal taxes while adding funds to unemployment, disability and social security entities, without the right to vote on such tax laws.
Calling people like himself “the formerly disenfranchised,” he calls out all politicians to get ready for the influx of new voters, saying:
(Florida Governor) Ron DeSantis better get ready. (President) Donald Trump better get ready. Republicans better get ready. And a lot of Democrats better get ready.
Another man, 28-year-old Greg Foster is relieved that he can finally vote again. Three months after his DUI sentence was completed, he proudly registered to vote in the State of Florida.
He is excited that his past felony DUI conviction is no longer holding him back from voicing his say at the polls.
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