Republicans Try to Strip Ex-Felons of Right to Vote Before They Even Have It
Will Amendment 4 survive?
Republicans in Florida are trying to obstruct official government business by attempting to undermine the implementations of restoring voting rights to 1.4 million former felons. This would be the largest expansion of voting rights in decades.
"On January 8, anybody who has completed the terms of their sentence for an offense other than murder or felony sexual assault had their rights restored by the voters on Election Day," said Howard Simon, director of the Florida ACLU, who helped to write the bill and campaigned for the referendum.
Simon anticipated the Republicans' interference in the rollout of the new bill by Congress would confuse potential voters with cumbersome regulations that may deter them from registering.
Conservative secretary of state Ken Detzner, who wants to prolong the implementation of the bill and wait for the measure to go in front of Legislators in March, has taken the first move.
"We need to get some direction from them as far as implementation and definitions — all the kind of things that the supervisors were asking," Detzner said, after meeting with the elections supervisors this week. "It would be inappropriate for us to charge off without direction from them,"
Lack of answers that came out of the meeting triggered frustration with local officials.
"They wouldn't give any direction to us, and they didn't provide a timeline," said Polk County elections chief Lori Edwards.
"It's typical," said Manatee County Supervisor Mike Bennett of the state's response, and predicted: "It's going to hit the fan."
This amendment rights a 150-year-old Jim Crow law where Florida not only stripped felons of their suffrage, but they also expanded what crimes qualified as felonies allowing courts to declare all African-Americans that committed offenses such as "larceny, malicious mischief, vagrancy, and all offenses against Religion, Chastity, Morality and Decency."
In order to earn their right back to vote Blacks had to go through a laborious petition process that included no standard for the government to go by. They were at the mercy of the governor and his cabinet as they had the final say.
In 2018 a federal judge found the process unconstitutional but it remains in place while the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals determines whether to keep it in place for people convicted of murder or sexual offenses who are not covered by Amendment 4.
Due to tough on crime laws of the last two decades of the 20th century, 20 percent of voting age African-Americans were disenfranchised. Amendment 4 is the product of voters taking back control.
The impact of Amendment 4 will be clear according to Simon: "It is self-enforcing, it is automatic, and it says that voting rights shall be restored, that the disqualification from voting shall end. I mean, I don't know what part of that is unclear at all. So I don't think it needs legislation."
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