Scores of felons in the Sunshine State rushed out on Tuesday to take advantage of their restored voting rights by registering to cast a ballot. But the state’s GOP governor tried to rain on their parade.
A constitutional amendment restoring their voting rights, which passed in November, went into effect on Tuesday, NPR reported.
Up to 1.4 million felons—disproportionately African-American—regained their right to cast a ballot under the referendum, reversing an 18th-century law that made it nearly impossible for felons to vote after serving their time in prison.
Florida, which banned more felons from voting than any other state, was blocking 21.5 percent of African Americans from casting ballots, achieving the goals of felony disenfranchisement laws that were historically intended to reduce Black voting power.
It was a day of celebration for the felons and those who supported the cruise to restore their rights.
However, newly elected Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to do everything he can to turn back the clocks. He warned since December that state legislation was needed before the felons could register to vote, DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post.
The state’s GOP-dominated legislature is likely to place restrictions on felon voting rights.
DeSantis, who opposed Amendment 4 that was approved by 64.6 percent of Florida voters, acknowledged that he and lawmakers are obligated to enact the reform. But he argued that it should not go into effect until lawmakers pass “implementing language” that he approves.
“They’re going to be able to do that in March,” DeSantis said, referring to the 60-day legislative session, which begins on March 5.
Paul Lux, Supervisor of Elections in Okaloosa County and president of the state association of Elections supervisors, pointed out some of the problems he sees to NPR.
Lux said there are questions about outstanding court costs and restitution judgments. It’s unclear to him whether the felons must pay those before they’re eligible to vote. Additionally, it’s unclear which types of violent crimes and sex offenses would continue to bar some felons from voting.
The amendment does not restore voting rights to felons convicted of murder and certain sex crimes, according to NRP.
However, voting right advocates disputed the claim that legislation is needed because the amendment was clearly worded. They see DeSantis’ objections as purely political.
“We don’t think there’s any role for politicians in this process. In fact, that was part of the role of Amendment 4, to get elected officials out of the business of picking their own voters,” said Neil Volz, an organizer who helped to push through Amendment 4.