TAMPA, Fla. — More than a million felons in Florida will soon have the right to vote, thanks to the passage of Amendment 4 — but questions remain about how it will work.
- Amendment 4 passed with 64.5 percent of the vote
- It restores voting rights to felons who complete sentences
- Does not apply to those convicted of murder or sex crimes
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“I think that’s going to be the next battle that takes place,” voting rights expert Darryl Paulson says.
Currently, there is no process in place for registering felons who have completed their sentence and paid their fines. That means state lawmakers could put together new legislation to implement the voting restoration amendment.
According to the Florida Constitution, the amendment must be implemented by the second Tuesday in January.
“Is the state legislature going to throw up impediments for these individuals to have their voting rights restored?” Paulson asked.
Sarah Potts, 27, of Plant City said she can’t wait to vote. She was convicted of felony drug possession in 2012 and has not been able to cast a ballot.
“As soon as I found out I could vote, I was researching stuff about politics, seeing what views that I aligned with, figuring out where I’m going to put my opinions in to make the country better,” Potts said.
Marquis McKenzie of Orlando was convicted of a felony more than a decade ago.
"I lost my voting rights before I had them,” McKenzie said.
Since then, he's started a janitorial business and runs a nonprofit called Community Outreach Enterprise, which reaches out to mentor youth.
He wants to "make sure they don’t go down the same path I did," McKenzie said.
McKenzie was at a watch party Tuesday night when he learned about the approval of Amendment 4.
"Shocking," he said. "I still think I'm in a dream. It was amazing we actually pulled this off. I believe when a debt is paid, you definitely deserve to have a second chance and be a part of change."
Organizations such as Let Your Voice Be Heard, which went to door to handing out fliers in support of the amendment, said its passage was a huge step, but more still needs to be done.
"Make sure it is written in the actual constitution, and over the next year or two, we have a real big job to get 1.4 million people registered to vote in the state of Florida so their voices can be lifted and be used," Let Your Voice Be Heard Director Miles Mulrain said.
McKenzie said he will take full advantage of the right to vote.
He wants to "be a part of democracy, be able to make different changes that I see affecting people in my community," McKenzie said.
Paulson cautioned that although there may be new voters because of the amendment, don't a million to register.
“You’re probably talking about half of them that would attempt to register to vote,” Paulson said. “And of that number, even those who registered to vote, only about a third of those who register to vote will actually cast votes."
The voting restoration amendment excludes those convicted of murder or sex crimes.