Advocates, opponents discuss Amendment 4 on 'The Weekly'

Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to certain convicted felons

ORLANDO, Fla. – Current Florida law requires convicted felons to wait five years after their sentence ends before they can apply to have their voting rights restored, but that could all change if a proposed constitutional amendment passes in November. 

Amendment 4, known as the Voting Restoration Amendment, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences and paid all court costs, except those convicted of murder and sex offenses.

On Sunday's "The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com," News 6 investigator Mike Holfeld and Justin Warmoth will talk to advocates on both sides of the proposed amendment. 

Tallahassee clemency attorney Reggie Garcia believes Amendment 4 is good public policy and smart justice for felons who have earned the right to vote. 

"People who have earned a second chance, meaning they're now citizens, taxpayers and in many cases business owners, they just want to be whole citizens," Garcia said. "They want to participate in their government." 

Supporters of current law, however, point out that people who have committed felonies must demonstrate they're truly reformed before having their voting rights restored. 

Tampa-area attorney Richard Harrison is behind the nonprofit group Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy and says he's strongly against the amendment's language. 

"Within the rest of the universe of convicted felons, you still have people convicted of violent crimes," Harrison said. "You have attempted murder, spousal abuse, elder abuse, armed robbery, battery, kidnapping, etc. There are a lot of bad people still in the mix." 

Calls for an overhaul of Florida's current voting rights restoration system are also garnering attention at the national level after comedian John Oliver implored voters to support Amendment 4 on an episode of his HBO show. 

Harrison agrees the process needs to be streamlined but reiterated that a blanket approach is not the answer. 

"The answers to that criticism is let's work on making the process better and more efficient," Harrison said. "The answer is not throw out the whole process and give felons automatically the right to vote without any kind of investigation." 

Amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass in Florida. 

This is how Amendment 4 will appear on the November ballot: 


"BALLOT SUMMARY: This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

"FINANCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT: The precise effect of this amendment on state and local government costs cannot be determined, but the operation of current voter registration laws, combined with an increased number of felons registering to vote, will produce higher overall costs relative to the processes in place today. The impact, if any, on state and local government revenues cannot be determined. The fiscal impact of any future legislation that implements a different process cannot be reasonably determined.

"FULL TEXT: Article VI, Section 4. Disqualifications.— (a) No person convicted of a felony, or adjudicated in this or any other state to be mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote or hold office until restoration of civil rights or removal of disability. Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation. (b) No person convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil rights."

Click here to see all of the proposed amendments.

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