Can Convicted Felons Vote in Florida?
If you are a convicted felon, you are likely painfully aware of the (many) consequences that come along with this label. Although your criminal history may represent, in many cases, just one short moment in your life, it can have permanent consequences, long after you have moved on. Many Floridians have long assumed that voting rights were a part of this list, although many did not realize that Florida was one of only four states remaining that permanently took voting rights from convicted felons.
Previously, this civil right could only be reinstated through a complicated and difficult process called clemency which ultimately relied upon the mercy of the Governor of Florida. However, in November 2018, Florida voters changed this with the approval of Amendment Four. This will update Section VI of the Florida Constitution (Section VI – Suffrage and Elections; Section 4 – Disqualifications).
Specifically, upon finishing a sentence for a felony conviction, a person’s right to vote will be automatically restored. No special application, no trip to Tallahassee, no additional fee to pay. Overnight, on January 8, approximately one million Floridians may become eligible to vote for the first time in a long time.
There are, however, some caveats:
· The amendment specifically states you must complete all terms of your sentence, including probation or parole. If you have remaining court costs or restitution, you may not be considered eligible.
· Certain crimes, specifically murder and felony sex offenses, are not included. The language of the amendment still appears to allow these offenders to apply for restoration of civil rights, presumably through the existing path of clemency.
· While your right to vote may be automatically restored after completion of your sentence, you will not be automatically registered. You will still need to register to vote in your current county of residence. On your application, you would indicate that your right to vote has been restored.
It is likely there will be confusion, as with any widespread change of law. To avoid problems, it would be advisable to register as soon as possible (beginning January 18, 2019), well before the next election.
The legal definitions in the amendment are somewhat vague and may be confusing to citizens. It is important keep in mind that Florida law (specifically Florida Statute s. 104.11(2)) makes it a third-degree felony (punishable by up to five years in prison) to give false information on a voter registration form. The law does require that this be done willfully – or on purpose- which would theoretically not apply if you mistakenly believed you were eligible.
If you are confused about whether you qualify, it may help to speak with a criminal defense lawyer. The Supervisor of Elections, the office in charge of registering voters, will not be responsible for examining the criminal records of each individual and determining eligibility, and likely will not be able to offer individualized advice.