Florida's convicted felons worry red tape will delay restoring voting rights

Gov.-elect Ron Desantis says Amendment 4 needs 'implementing language'

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Next Tuesday, more than a million ex-felons will get their chance to register to vote again.

This comes after more than 60 percent of Florida residents voted to approve Amendment 4 in November, giving felons convicted of non-violent crimes who have served their time and paid all court fees the right to vote.

Prior to Amendment 4, felons had to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request to restore their voting rights  with the Florida  governor and Cabinet. About 1.5 million people are affected. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences.

However, some ex-felons worry there may be a delay in restoring their voting rights after Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post last month that the amendment should take effect after lawmakers meet in March and pass “implementing language” in a bill that he signs.

KT Thompson said he and so many other convicted felons who have served their time have earned their right to vote.

"(We) haven’t had the right to vote or haven’t had the chance to vote. We want our voices to be heard, too," Thompson said.

Thompson said he was jailed for eight and half years on felony drug charges and now spends his time in his community motivating people to make better choices. He's also written several books hoping to encourage teens specifically to stay on the right track.

"I've never voted. I’ll be 49 next Tuesday on the 8th, never walked in the polling station -- never thought I’d vote," Thompson said.

Thompson and many advocates for Amendment 4 said a possible delay on restoring convicted felons voting rights sounds like red tape. 

"I’m concerned that they’ll just continue to delay it, and a lot of the convicted felons just give up," said Thompson.

Florida State Sen. Dennis Baxley said lawmakers may discuss the process of restoring felons voting rights at the legislative session in March. He told News 6 it may be important to have language that better defines the verification process for ex-felons.

"We just want to make sure that people have a clear system and we don’t have 67 supervisors of election trying to make those decisions, and they may need some legislative authority for specific things they need in order to do that," Baxley said.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said Amendment 4 was approved by Florida voters and stopping it will possibly end in a court battle.

"The voters voted to put something in the Florida constitution, and now can you put a stop on it, it’ll have to be done by a court," Cowles said.

A group of advocates for Amendment 4 are holding a press conference Monday morning at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office to encourage convicted felons who have served their time to register to vote on Tuesday.

"The Governor-elect intends for the will of the voters to be implemented and will look to the Legislature to clarify the various questions that have been raised," said Dave Vasquez, a spokesman for DeSantis.

About the Author:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.