SARASOTA (WWSB) - It could soon be more challenging for convicted felons to be able to vote here in Florida, even though voters passed Amendment 4 last November with 65 percent of the vote.
A House Criminal Justice Committee signing off on a proposal today that says felons would have to clear up any financial obligations including court costs, fees and fines before having their voting rights restored, that includes 1.5 million eligible Floridians. Twenty years ago Demetrius Jifunza was convicted and charged with armed robbery. He did his time and he says he will continue to fight for Amendment 4.
“We will continue to demand lawmakers to respect the amendment, respect the voters that voted yes for Amendment 4 and we’re going to go ahead push a petition, just like we did to get the amendment on the ballot and whatever else needs to be done,” said Jifunza.
Amendment 4 was discussed in depth this evening at a symposium in Sarasota including these possible changes. State Representative James Grant from Tampa, the sponsor of the bill, says the goal is to create a more uniform way to make a determination as to who is eligible to vote.
“This bill effectively deals only with the definition of completion of all terms of sentence, the definition of felony sex offense, the definition of murder,” said Grant.
Amendment 4 states that felons will be granted automatic restoration of their voting rights after they have completed all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. This excludes people convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
Two of the featured speakers at this evening’s event were the Supervisors of Elections in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. They both agree on how they will operate regarding Amendment 4.
“There is a box on the voter registration form that asks if they been convicted of a felony and if their rights have been restored, so at this point that’s what’s need to register to vote,” said Ron Turner, Supervisor of Elections in Sarasota County.
“If they come in and they check the box that they’ve completed everything, I’m taking them at their word, unless I get documentation that says they didn’t,” said Michael Bennett, Supervisor of Elections in Manatee County.
As for Demetrius Jifunza he did register to vote back in January. He tells us he will be voting for the first time in the 2020 General Election.
“I’m still going to celebrate but in all celebrations there has to be a fight to make sure that what you set out to do continues,” said Jifunza.
Today was the bill’s first of what’s expected to be many hearings in the state legislature.