Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections says that he’ll let many ex-felons register to vote beginning Tuesday, even though Florida’s governor-elect has a different opinion.
Tuesday is when the recent voter-approved amendment on voting rights restoration becomes effective in the Florida Constitution.
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer tells WMNF News that rights restoration goes into effect automatically; the legislature doesn’t need to implement it
“We haven’t received any guidance from the state. But we’ve looked at this and we feel pretty confident that this is self-implementing. It states right in the amendment that if a voter has completed all the terms of their sentence, including probation and parole – and they weren’t convicted for homicide or felony sex crimes – then their rights are going to automatically be restored. And they would have the ability to then register to vote.”
So if someone comes to you on Tuesday and they say that they’re in this situation where they had been a felon, what kind of things will you ask them? What kind of documentation will you require from them?
“They will fill out a Voter Registration Form, just like anyone would fill out. And there’s three questions on that form. One of them says, ‘Are you a citizen of the United States? Yes or No.’ One of them says, ‘Have you been adjudicated mentally incompetent with respect to voting? And if you have that your right to vote has been restored.’ And the other one says, ‘I affirm that I am not a convicted felon or that if I am my rights have been restored.’
“So as long as they can check that box and they self-report that, we’ll accept that registration. We then send it up to the state for verification. Through the driver’s license number, the last four of their Social [Security Number], there’s a match that’s made. And then if they had in fact completed all that, they’ll be ready to go.”
And just to clarify – in your opinion, in the opinion of your office – a felon’s rights will have been restored since it’s now in the Constitution; that it happens automatically?
“That’s the way the wording is in the amendment to the Constitution. That it would restore the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all the terms of their sentence including parole and probation.”
Now, what happens if someone who’s an ex-felon goes and registers and they fill out the form the way they did and it turns out that there was something in their background like an unpaid fee to a court or restitution to victims or they haven’t completed their parole or probation and maybe they just made an honest mistake? Would that be considered election registration fraud?
“Well, I think that these individuals that we’re talking about know whether or not they’ve completed the conditions of their sentence. Most people, if they still owe fines, they’re going to still be on probation – so they would not have completed probation.
“But, you know, Seán, I think what’s more important is we talk about, for instance, I’m told there are about 10,000 people right now that have an application with the Florida Clemency Board to try and get their rights restored. I guarantee you that these people have completed all of the terms of their sentence or they wouldn’t have that application in.
“We’re putting out information. We’re asking people if they’re not certain that they can contact the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, they can contact the Clerk of the Court of the county they live in. … They can also contact the Department of Corrections if there’s’ a question about whether or not they’ve completed the conditions of their sentence.”
Finally, I wanted to ask you about a statement that Governor-elect Ron DeSantis made — at the risk of maybe being a little bit redundant here. He seems to think that restoration of voting rights must wait until the state legislature gets around to approving implementing language. And I’m guessing based on what you’ve told me during this conversation that you don’t agree with the governor-elect about that?
“You know, Seán, the State Division of Elections has a very comprehensive system that they go through right now prior to this amendment. Where they routinely compare the voter rolls against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Crime Information Center to look for people that may have been adjudicated guilty of a felony.
“If they find somebody then they actually pull that information from whatever county clerk’s office it is to once again ensure that this person is an adjudicated felon. And then there’s a process in how we would ultimately remove them. They should be able to continue to do the same process that I just outlined to you. And when they look at that package they can also ascertain whether the individual has completed all of the terms of their sentence. Because if not, they would still be on probation, most probably.”
On Tuesday morning Congress member Charlie Crist and other officials are hosting a “Former Felon Registration Event” at St. Petersburg City Hall.
And here’s a Tweet from Marion County’s Supervisor of Elections:
Felons with restored voting rights can register beginning Jan. 8 https://t.co/APRNLKV8Ww
— VoteMarion (@VoteMarion) January 2, 2019