Amend­ment 4 is clear. Re­store vot­ing rights to for­mer pris­on­ers who’ve paid their debts

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Opinion -

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.

SU­SAN STOCKER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

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.

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