Amendment 4 is clear. Restore voting rights to former prisoners who’ve paid their debts
Floridians who cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election sent a strong message of support for Amendment 4, which changes the state constitution to allow most former prisoners who complete their sentences to regain their right to vote.
Almost 65 percent of the nearly 8 million people who voted on the question said ‘yes.’ The measure is scheduled to take effect Jan. 8.
Or so we thought.
This week, news reports coming from a statewide meeting of elections supervisors in Sarasota suggest the lame-duck administration of Gov. Rick Scott may have other plans.
At the meeting, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who reports to Scott and whose department oversees statewide elections, suggested there is “confusion” among the supervisors and many questions must be answered before the amendment can be implemented. State lawmakers, he claimed, are best positioned to provide the answers.
“We need to get some direction from them as far as implementations and directions — all the kinds of things that the supervisors are asking,” he declared, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald. “It would be inappropriate for us to charge off without direction from them.”
Howard Simon, who recently ended his storied career with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida after securing the amendment’s passage, detects more than a little mischief in the state’s position. In an interview with the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, he made a good case.
“If a constitutional amendment is put on a ballot and approved by 65 percent of voters, why is there now confusion about how to carry it out?” he asks.
Simon says the language of Amendment 4 is “self-executing,” which means “no legislation is necessary.”
The amendment says “voting rights shall be restored upon completion” of a sentence. Sounds pretty self-explanatory to us.
When a judge determines that a convicted offender has successfully performed his or her obligations to society — whether it’s serving a prison term, completing community service, or paying restitution to a victim or fees to a court — the person’s voting rights are to be restored. (The amendment does not apply to former felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses.)
It is up to the would-be voter to truthfully certify to elections officials that their debt to society has been paid. And it is up to the government — meaning local and state election officials, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections, to “confirm what the citizen affirms,” Simon noted.
Each agency has a computer system. Presuming state agencies speak to one another, it shouldn’t be hard to verify an ex-offender’s affidavit through interagency communication.
Up to 1.5 million Floridians who’ve completed their sentences remain unable to vote. That’s largely because the Florida Cabinet, under the leadership of Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, began slowwalking the clemency process after their election eight years ago. At their first Cabinet meeting, they moved to undo the policy of former Gov. Charlie Crist, which annually restored the voting rights of more than 100,000 former felons who were leading law-abiding lives.
Scott and Bondi denied most applicants, even after making them wait between five and seven years to even apply. In all, our U.S. Senate-bound governor and his Cabinet colleagues granted just 3,000 requests and watched a wait list balloon to more than 10,000. Most people simply gave up, seeing the barriers before them.
It should come as no surprise that Detzner and his crew are now slow-walking the amendment’s implementation and suggesting decisions should be made by a Republican-dominated Legislature that never supported giving former prisoners their voting rights back.
The legislature’s persistent refusal to act is why it took a citizen’s initiative to put the question on the November ballot.
Now that the people have spoken, Detzner should execute the will of the people — by the prescribed deadline of Jan. 8.
It’s his job. He should get to work.
After 65 percent of Florida's midterm election voters approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to convicted felons. the state inexplicably delayed the measure pending research on the logistics. It sounds like a stall tactic, writes the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.