The Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Office said it plans to begin registering former felons Jan. 8, despite unclear direction from state officials, including incoming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In November, voters approved Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to many felons who complete their sentences and pay their dues. The measure does not apply to those convicted of sex offenses and murder.
As many as 1.4 million former felons could become eligible due to Amendment 4.
But now the measure is facing uncertainty.
Since the amendment passed with nearly 65 percent of the vote, there has been an argument over whether the amendment takes effect automatically. DeSantis suggested last month that the amendment would not take effect until the Florida Legislature makes a decision.
The only problem is lawmakers don’t start their annual session until March.
“That would mean not allowing an amendment to take effect – one Florida voters approved with a majority – for at least two months,” said Kari Ewalt, communications coordinator for the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections. “That’s what we would have a problem with.”
Some of the groups that pushed for the amendment, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, have said they are ready to go to court if there are any delays.
Ewalt and other supervisor of elections offices across the state said they plan to begin accepting registration applications next month, and it will be up to the state to determine if the applicants are ineligible.
“Currently, there’s a box you check if you’re a felon and one you check if you’re a former felon whose rights have been restored,” Ewalt said. “People who have served their debt to society would check that second box beginning Jan. 8.”
Florida requires someone to sign under oath that they have had their voting rights restored.
That’s why Ewalt said it’s important for former felons to check with the Clerk of Courts to make sure they are in the clear.
“We don’t check their status at our office,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to do so. Then the state confirms it once we send the voting application off.”
Ewalt said the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections office started receiving phone calls from former felons interested in registering to vote shortly after Amendment 4 passed in November.
Until the amendment passed, Florida’s constitution automatically barred felons from being able to vote after leaving prison. The state’s clemency process allowed the governor and three elected Cabinet members to restore voting rights on a case-by-base basis, although the governor could veto any request without reason.
Since Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi changed the system in 2011, fewer than 3,000 former prisoners have had their rights restored.
Nationwide, about 6 million Americans can’t cast ballots as a result of a felony conviction. About half have fully completed their sentences, a quarter are in the community under probation or parole and a quarter are still incarcerated, according to Poltifact.
DeSantis came under fire after he gave an interview with the Palm Beach Post in December where he maintained that the amendment could not go into effect until after the Legislature took action in March.
But Dave Vasquez, a spokesman for DeSantis, told the Associated Press last week, “the governor-elect intends for the will of the voters to be implemented but will look to the Legislature to clarify the various questions that have been raised.”
Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the state’s division of elections, has provided no guidance to the state’s 67 election supervisors on the matter, according to the Associated Press.