All across Florida former prisoners lined up to register to vote Jan. 8 — some getting there more than an hour before offices opened — as constitutional Amendment 4 took effect. It passed overwhelmingly last November, by 64.6 percent.
The amendment restored voting rights to more than a million people statewide convicted of felonies once they’ve completed their sentence, including probation and fines. Still excluded are ex-prisoners convicted of murder or sex offences.
“This day’s a very big day for me,” truck driver Carlos Beverley told WFSU radio in Leon County after registering. “It gives me the opportunity to feel free again.”
Former prisoner Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition that campaigned for the amendment, told the press that as far as he knows no ex-prisoners were turned away at elections offices Jan. 8. He was one of the first to register in Orlando.
Its passage was a gain for all working people and inspired others across the country to fight restrictions on the franchise for workers who’ve been thrown behind bars.
Before the amendment passed former prisoners had to wait five years before they could even apply to have their voting rights restored, and then had to wait while the governor made the decision, yea or nay.
Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis — who took office Jan. 8 as well —opposed the amendment. He said last month that voting rights couldn’t be restored until the state legislature enacts “implementing language,” provoking an outcry. The next legislative session doesn’t begin until March 5.
The amendment passed because of overwhelming support from working people of all races and political perspectives. They know that the so-called criminal justice system is stacked against workers, especially those who are Black. They don’t think that prisoners should be treated as less than human, nor continue to be punished after they’ve served their sentences. And they don’t take kindly to anyone trying to gut or delay their vote for the amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and the League of Women Voters of Florida sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner after DeSantis said he might try to put off implementation. The measure’s “language is specific and unambiguous,” they said.
“The amendment was written deliberately to not have the involvement of the legislature or the governor. It’s self-executing,” Melba Pearson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida, told the Militant in a Dec. 17 phone interview. “We are encouraging everyone who has had a felony conviction and has completed their sentence to register to vote.”
Some liberals had argued that the amendment, which needed 60 percent to pass, would never make it in Florida because workers who back Republicans like DeSantis, or Donald Trump, are reactionary and racist and wouldn’t vote for it. They were wrong. And far more people voted for Amendment 4 than voted for DeSantis, who won with just over 49.6 percent of the vote.