As the deadline for Floridians approaches to register to vote in the state’s March 17 presidential primary, it’s still unclear whether those with felony convictions can make their voices heard .
More than a year after Florida voters restored voting rights to 1.4 million people with felony convictions, widespread confusion surrounds its implementation, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Legal battles over law aimed at carrying out the amendment remain unresolved. The state has provided little guidance to local officials, and some counties are filling the void with inconsistent remedies. Many people with felony records aren’t sure how to meet requirements and fear running afoul of the law by registering to vote.
That could make a critical difference in the primary in Florida, a critical swing state known for close elections. The deadline for registration is Feb. 18.
“It is a confusing, Byzantine morass,” said Myrna Pérez of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which sued the state over the issue. The 2018 amendment, which was approved by 65 percent of Florida voters, ended the permanent disenfranchisement of felons.
The measure restored voting rights to those who completed their prison terms as well as parole or probation, except people with murder or felony sexual-assault convictions. The Republican-led legislature last year passed a bill requiring that felons pay any fees, fines or restitution they owe to fulfill all terms of their sentences.
One expert found that 80 percent of those believed to qualify under the amendment would have to pay off financial obligations. The state has no centralized source that people can consult to determine whether they owe fees, fines or restitution.
“When people don’t have a clear idea about requirements…that has a chilling effect on them exercising their rights,” said Julie Ebenstein of the American Civil Liberties Union.
See also: Will Voting Rights Measure Trigger Culture of Justice Reform in Florida?, The Crime Report Nov 25, 2019.