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Advocates, Florida officials vow to register disenfranchised voters despite governor’s objections

Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions, is set to be implemented Tuesday.

Despite attempts to undermine Amendment 4 by Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, advocates and officials say returning citizens will be able to register to vote without problems Tuesday. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Despite attempts to undermine Amendment 4 by Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, advocates and officials say returning citizens will be able to register to vote without problems Tuesday. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA — Advocates and local officials promised Monday that the 1.4 million Floridians previously deprived of their voting rights due to felony convictions will be able to register to vote when the amendment that restored their right is officially implemented Tuesday, no matter what Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis (R) says.

Last month, DeSantis, who will be inaugurated Tuesday, said he believes Amendment 4 should not be implemented without input from the state legislature, delaying the fulfillment of the voter-approved measure by at least two months and further disenfranchising returning citizens. But on the eve of Amendment 4’s scheduled implementation, advocates were defiant.

“When [we] walk into the county supervisors offices tomorrow, we’re walking in under the authority of the highest law in the state of Florida, which is our state constitution,” Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), said on a call with reporters Monday. “We are fully expecting every [county] to follow the law. We’re not expecting anyone to stop us.”

When a person registers to vote in Florida, they have to confirm they are a citizen, a Florida resident, and over the age of 18. Then, they’re asked to confirm that they have never been convicted of a felony, or, if they have been, that they’ve had their civil rights restored. Amendment 4 was written to be self-executing, meaning once it passed — and it did, with nearly 65 percent of the vote — it automatically restored the right to vote en masse for people with felony convictions who have completed the terms of their sentence. (It excludes people with felony sexual assault and murder convictions.)

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Supervisors of elections offices across the state, including Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Lee counties, confirmed to ThinkProgress that they will accept registration applications from returning citizens beginning Tuesday. The Sarasota County elections supervisor told Sarasota Magazine that they will accept registrations, as well.

“We’re going to start registering people that are in that category,” Susan Booker, Palm Beach County elections supervisor, told ThinkProgress Monday, referring to returning citizens. “It’s always been based on the honor system, and we’re not in a position to change it. The way I see it is I’m a ministerial officer filling out a form.”

That means, Brooks said, if returning citizens check every box Tuesday, confirming they can legally register to vote, she’ll send the form along to the state. But what will happen when that form reaches the state, which has to officially clear people registering to vote, remains uncertain. DeSantis said he believes the state legislature needs to clarify implementation rules and regulations before Amendment 4 can take effect.

But the legislature does not meet until March 5, and, notably, there are municipal elections scheduled for early spring in the state. Tampa, for example, has a mayoral election March 5, the same day the legislature returns. By then, the primary elections, in which returning citizens were expected to be able to vote, will have already come and gone before the legislature is scheduled to be in session again.

Previously, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner also said he couldn’t make any decisions without the input of the state legislature, though in an email to ThinkProgress Monday, Detzer’s office quoted from the state constitution and confirmed they believe Amendment 4 officially restored voting rights to returning citizens in the state.

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“The Florida Department of State will abide by any future direction from the Executive Clemency Board or the Florida Legislature regarding necessary action or implementing legislation to ensure full compliance with the law,” Florida Department of State communications director Sarah Revell added in an email. “Given that Amendment 4 passed and pending any further direction from the Legislature, the Department is pausing on our process of sending any valid felon match files to Supervisors of Election.”

Meade, of the FRRC, said he and other returning citizens see Tuesday, implementation day, as a day of celebration.

“Love won [on election night] and that spirit is what we’re holding on to,” he said. “It was never about division. It was never about partisan politics… and what we’re going to embark on is going to be transformative not just for the state of Florida, but for the entire country.”

If any returning citizen has issues registering to vote, they are encouraged to call a hotline set up by FRRC at 877-698-6830.