One of the largest enfranchisements of U.S. citizens in the past century begins Tuesday in Florida, and many of the more than 1.4 million individuals convicted of felonies who are set to regain their voting rights are treating the moment as a celebration, the Washington Post reports.
In Tampa, one group is renting buses to register en masse at the county elections office. Others will be live-streaming on Facebook as they march in. Voters in November overturned Florida’s 1868 ban blocking residents with felony convictions from automatically having their voting rights restored once they served their sentences.
In the run-up to Tuesday, the organizations and volunteers who worked for the past decade to pass the amendment to the state constitution have been ramping up their efforts to encourage ex-felons to follow through.
“We’re kicking this into a higher gear now,” said Neil Volz of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Pro-bono attorneys will be on call in case problems crop up.
In last November’s midterms, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which automatically restored voting rights for people previously convicted of felonies, as long as they have completed their sentences. However, anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses was excluded.
Based on the Sentencing Project’s 2016 estimates, this benefits more than a million people. The organization estimated in 2016 that nearly 1.5 million people in Florida have completed felony sentences but can’t vote — about 9.2 percent of the voting-age population in Florida. The total, though, includes some people convicted of murder and felony sex offenses, so not every one of those people benefits under Amendment 4
Some legislators say the law change should not take effect until the legislature can review it. Supporters insist the legislature does not need to do a thing. “The amendment was written to be self-executing.
“It goes into effect on Jan. 8, and we can register that day,” Volz said.
Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis backs a delay so that lawmakers could consider how ex-felons’ registration should be implemented.
To many, the timing is suspect: The legislature does not convene until March, but municipal elections in Florida begin in February. All Democratic candidates running for statewide office in November endorsed the amendment. Republican candidates largely did not, including DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott, who beat incumbent Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race. At the polls, the measure was approved by nearly two-thirds of voters.