Q. Can you provide any information on when felons will be allowed to register to vote?
A. Amendment 4 was placed on the November ballot as a citizen initiative, and it passed with the approval of more than 60 percent of voters. The results of the election clearly indicated voters’ desire that individuals with certain felony convictions have a path to restoring their voting rights.
Under prior law, those convicted of felonies in Florida had the right to vote revoked unless and until the governor, with the approval of at least two members of the clemency board, granted clemency. With the passage of Amendment 4, voting rights will be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole and probation, with the exception of individuals convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. Those particular persons still need to seek restoration of their civil rights through the Office of Executive Clemency.
As an elected official, I will support the will of the electorate. There are questions about how the process will work. Some ponder the wide range of charges for murder, and want sexual crimes to be more clearly defined. Some believe the proposal should not take effect until the Legislature is in session and implementing language is approved. Some feel confusion stems in determining when a sentence has been completed; whether that includes court costs, fines and restitution having been paid in full; and if completing a sentence goes beyond all jail time, probation, and parole. Information regarding various parts of a criminal sentence can be complex, as information about fines, incarceration, restitution payments, and probation and parole, are housed with different agencies and in different databases. Clerks have access to some data, but even our data won’t tell the whole story for each individual.
Unless a judge orders otherwise, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections has said he will begin to register felons on Jan. 8, the day the Voting Restoration Amendment goes into effect. He and other election supervisors in Florida have taken the position that it is their constitutional duty to accept voter registrations from anyone who completes their form, and checks the box saying either they are not a felon or they have had their voting rights restored. They feel it is then up to the secretary of state to research and cross-reference voter registrations with Florida Department of Law Enforcement records to verify their information. That is where the state or legislature arguably will have to come in and enact a set of rules to govern the process.
The Franklin County Supervisor of Elections’ website reports it is the voter’s responsibility to confirm whether their voting rights have been automatically restored, and she advises verification prior to registering to vote. She states if a voter’s name was removed from the voting rolls due to a felony conviction, the individual must re-register to vote.
As it is the responsibility of the voter to know their status, they may be told to contact the clerk of the court in the county where they were sentenced so as to gather information to ensure their sentencing conditions have been completed. At this point, it is my understanding completion of a sentence is defined by all conditions imposed by the sentencing judge being met, which includes payment of all monies, any incarceration in jail or prison, and successful termination of probation and parole, which may include terms of restitution.
Each individual case may be different, and clerks may not have all the information because of all the various agencies involved. Clerks are monitoring this issue and will respond appropriately to direction from the implementing officials.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please forward them to Marcia Johnson, Clerk of the Court, 33 Market St., Suite 203., Apalachicola, FL 32320, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the clerk’s website at www.franklinclerk.com