As of Jan. 8, 2019, Florida’s Amendment 4 went into effect, restoring voting rights to potentially 1.2 million to 1.4 million Florida residents with a criminal history. Newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis created a media kerfuffle back in December, saying that until state legislators worked on the “implementing language,” the amendment would be on hold. But the Florida constitution puts amendments before lawmakers’ wishes, and there was nothing to stop convicted felons (except those convicted of homicide or sex crime offenses) who have served their sentences, completed probation or parole and paid any obligatory fees from registering to vote.
“The legislature never anticipated Amendment 4,” said Joyce Griffin, Monroe County’s supervisor of elections. She points to the Division of Elections, which will have to create guidelines for processing the new applications. There is no database of felons who have gone from ineligible to eligible, thus no appointed department in charge of verifying these new voters.
As it stands, registering is as simple as filling out an application online or going to the election office in person, answering the questions truthfully, and submitting the application. The burden is on the state to find any false claims. Before the amendment, a convicted felon had to get permission from the clemency board, but not any more.
“I just press ‘send,’” said Griffin, who has personally helped a handful of people register since Jan. 8 but does not verify their information. “I don’t tell them if they can register or not. I tell them the ‘ifs, ands and buts’ and most of all, to be truthful when answering the questions. I think people know if they have paid their restitution.” Griffin has printed clearly on Keys-Elections.org: “Notice: It is a 3rd degree felony to submit false information. Maximum penalties are $5,000 and/or 5 years in prison.”
If in doubt, residents can check with their parole officer, Clerk of Courts or Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and ACLU are also prepared to help with legal guidance. While it may take the state months to notify applicants of ineligibility, as for now there is no stopping anyone from registering and voting in upcoming elections.
There has not been a surge of new voter registrants, but Griffin predicts an uptick closer to election times, especially 2020.