Amendment 4 Is Here, But Questions Remain About Implementation. Who's Eligible To Re-Register?

Feb 15, 2019

Former felon Yolanda Wilcox, left, fills out a voter registration form as her best friend Gale Buswell looks on at the Supervisor of Elections office Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. Former felons in Florida began registering for elections on Tuesday, when an amendment that restores their voting rights went into effect.
Credit John Raoux / AP Photo

Thursday’s joint meeting of the Florida House Judiciary Committee and Criminal Justice Subcommittee brought up questions about the logistics of implementing Amendment 4.

The amendment gives automatic restoration of voting rights to people with a felony in their past – except for those convicted of murder or sexually violent offenses. Yet, there are areas of uncertainty when it comes to who can re-register.

Paul Lux is Okaloosa County’s Supervisor of Elections, and is president of the state’s Association of Supervisors. He says one area of confusion is what it means to complete all terms of a sentence, and whether that does or doesn’t include things like paying restitution and fines.

“When someone calls our office and says ‘am I eligible to re-register?’ Our answer, unfortunately, right now is – we’re not really sure,” Lux said. He used an example of his own to outline one such instance:

“I always draw upon my own experience for this just to kind of drive the point home, and what I explain to people is this: During Hurricane Ivan, I lost a fair section of my roof. I contracted with somebody to put a new roof on my house. I gave them $4,000, they did not put a roof on my house,” Lux told the Committee. “When they went to jail, they were told ‘Give Paul Lux back his $4,000.' They are no longer in jail, Paul Lux still doesn’t have his $4,000. So if that person walks into my office to register tomorrow, do I accept the registration or don’t I accept the registration?”

Also relating to completion of sentences are conditions like community service and probation. Lee Adams, who heads the state Department of Corrections’ Bureau of Admission and Release, addressed that during the meeting.

“We can tell you when someone has successfully completed supervision, by having completed all conditions of that supervision. In other words, they did everything they were supposed to do, and they got off supervision,” Adams said. “What we don’t know is, we have cases where, for various reasons, supervision is terminated and the person has not completed everything. Well obviously, what happens after that, we have no way of knowing.”

Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell says those in his role would have the burden of answering that question. He adds the legwork would be “exhaustive.”

“I’m going to have to do an individual investigation into every named offender. I’m going to have to probably run all of them through FCIC and NCIC, which is the state and the national database, look at every place that they’ve committed a crime, and then go and individually look through every case, try to contact the victims individually, find out if they were otherwise paid restitution,” Campbell said.

There are other points of uncertainty as well. One is definitions of murder other than first degree, like vehicular homicide, and whether people convicted of such things are eligible. Finally, Lux says, when applicants ask about their eligibility, supervisors do not have a place to get that information.

In an exchange, House Judiciary Committee Paul Renner and Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Frederick Lauten brought up a key point: Do the formerly incarcerated even have something tangible to show for finishing a sentence?

“If I pay off a car loan I get a satisfaction, right? Or a mortgage,” Renner said. “But does an inmate who’s served 20 years get something that says your debt’s been paid?”

“I think the short answer’s no. There is not a document that says you’ve completed your sentence,” Lauten replied.

Renner spoke with reporters after the joint meeting. Based on everything he heard, he says the goal is to make things more uniform.

“I think the goal of inner operability and data fidelity, where someone can walk out of prison or walk out of their probation office when their sentence is complete, and have that certificate, and everybody sees that across all the agencies that are involved,” Renner said. “And not just in voting, but occupational licensing and serving on a jury, running for office – any of these things – I think is where we want to go.”