Restoring Florida Voting Rights Of Ex-Felons

How was the Voting Restoration Amendment Supposed to work?

The  proposal to restore voting rights to ex-felons in Florida passed in November, and the state still has not made it easy for the Voting Restoration Amendment to work.  Will it help ex-felons? If you or someone you love has a criminal record in Florida, this amendment may help. The Voting Restoration Amendment gained momentum when state officials certified it to be placed before the voters in November 2018.

Video – Case Studies – How Can An Ex-Felon Register to Vote?

Transcript of Voter Registration Video: Recently, the State of Florida restored civil rights ex-felons who want to try to vote. It’s not clear what, if anything, the government will do to ensure that the person is eligible to have the right to vote.

In fact, a couple of people have recently contacted me. One of them had a decades-old worthless check case with restitution that was owed to a company that is no longer in business. That was a surprise to them because they had been off probation for years. To get your civil rights restored, you have to have complied with all the conditions of your sentence and that can include restitution.

Another person contacted me and indicated that they have been off of federal probation for years and thought that they could register to vote. In abundance of caution I suggested that we stepped through a few parts of an investigation to see if it was in fact correct that she had completed all terms of her supervision.

Much to her surprise she was notified that the bureau of prisons was owed $200, that she had not completed her sentence, and had she registered to vote the statement she made on her voting rights restoration would have been incorrect. Therefore she was not eligible to vote.


Video – Congressional Hearings on Voting Rights

House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) says he will “fight until the death” to make sure every citizen has the right to vote. His remarks came during a hearing on H.R. 1, a bill on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics rules.

How can ex-felons sign up to vote in Florida?

The process has not become much easier after the election where voters overwhelmingly supported the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons in Florida. The eligibility requirements are not clear and it is a crime to register with false statements. What that means to potential voters is highly suspect now. None of the forms on the governor’s website have been updated to reflect the changing requirements in the law. Voter registration forms still require a sworn statement that the potential voter is eligible to register.

Supervisors of election “are encouraging applicants to verify they meet the requirements by checking with their county’s clerk of court, the Department of Corrections and other resources.”

Florida Voter Registration Checklist

  • Check court records,
  • Check Department of Corrections records,
  • Conduct a background investigation,
  • Use private investigator,
  • Get a Legal Opinion Letter.

Our firm intends to help protect our voting rights clients before registration to vote. A false statement can result in new criminal charges.

 

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY NOW?

What is the current law regarding the voting rights of ex-felons in the state of Florida, and why was a change  proposed?

As the law stood before the election in Florida, a convicted ex-felon cannot vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office until that person’s civil rights have been restored.

Voting Restoration Florida
Voting Restoration Florida

An ex-felon must apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights with the state’s Office of Executive Clemency, called the “Clemency Board.” The Governor and members of the Cabinet make up the Clemency Board. We have the application available below as a free download. Then voting rights and registration to vote can be completed at the appropriate Supervisor of Elections office.

HOW IS CLEMENCY OBTAINED?

What are the factors used when determining whether to restore someone’s civil rights?

To qualify for clemency, an ex-felon must have paid all outstanding court-ordered fines and restitution and must not have any pending criminal charges or outstanding detainers or warrants. The Clemency Board considers a number of factors when determining whether to restore someone’s civil rights, including:

  1. the nature and circumstances of the offender’s conviction
  2. the offender’s overall criminal record including traffic offenses
  3. the offender’s employment history
  4. the offender’s mental health, any drug or alcohol issues, and any domestic violence issues
  5. letters submitted by others in support or opposition to the clemency application

Clemency isn’t easy to win in this state. Depending on the offense, an ex-felon must wait either five or seven years after completing his or her sentence or supervision to apply for clemency.

HOW DOES THE CLEMENCY BOARD OPERATE?

Florida has a backlog of about 0ver 10,000 people who are awaiting clemency hearings, and that’s one reason offered in support of the Voting Restoration Amendment. The state’s Clemency Board has only four meetings a year, and it considers only 50 to 75 cases at each meeting. If you are interested in seeking clemency, you should schedule a meeting to discuss your situation with an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney.

Expungement – An Alternative to Clemency

Because clemency is so difficult to obtain, some ex-felons have sought expungements and the sealing of records as alternatives to clemency. If you qualify, Florida lets you seal or expunge a criminal arrest record.

If your case was dismissed, dropped, or no-billed (not filed) it can be expunged. If the adjudication was withheld, you may be able to have the record sealed. In Florida, expungement and the sealing of records is exceedingly complicated, and not every ex felon will be able to have his or her records sealed or convictions expunged.

Conviction Seal Expunge Tampa Florida
Conviction Seal Expunge Tampa Florida

If You Are An Ex-felon, How Can A Lawyer Help?

A good defense lawyer can determine if you qualify for expungement or record sealing, and if you do, the attorney will walk you through the process. To become state law, the Voting Restoration Amendment needed support from sixty percent of the state’s voters. That threshold meant the proposal had support from voters in both parties.

Here is a typical Florida Voter Registration Form. Voter Registration Form dsde39

Florida Voter Registration Application
Florida Voter Registration Application

Notably, Registration forms still force applicants to check a box asserting “I affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored.”

One Tampa Bay Area supervisor of elections has posted a form that requires an application to restore civil rights. Notably, that form is the standard form provided by the government and requires a great deal of legwork and wait time. That form provided by a governmental agency has not been updated to comply with the will of the voters in 2018. It is dated 2011!

Restoration Voting Rights Florida Form
Restoration Voting Rights Florida Form

Florida Still Has not Updated Forms to Comply with New Voter Law

Outdated Clemency Application
Outdated Clemency Application

 

As of February 2019, the only way to be certain that all the conditions of a sentence have been met and that there are no disqualifying offenses is to go through the run around with the governor’s office. For your inconvenience, I have included that Florida Clemency Application for you to download, review,  file, then wait until possibly after the next election for them to even begin to act on it. Probably best to go ahead and get the ball rolling before the next presidential election.

According to the Miami Herald, “By law, the amendment goes into effect Jan. 8, and the language was very clear that it restores voting rights to all who have completed their terms of sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses,” said Gerri Kramer, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.

The Herald also noted, “Constitutional Amendment Number 4 is effective January 8, 2019. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections will accept voter registration applications from anyone who believes they are eligible to register to vote,” echoed Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark.

Cautionary Warning on Florida Voter Registration

According to one other elections official, Peter Antonacci, “potential voters should be certain they are in the clear because Amendment 4 ‘does not define’ felony sexual offenses or ‘all terms of a sentence.'”

DO OTHER STATES PERMANENTLY BAR EX-FELONS FROM VOTING?

Desmond Meade, who chaired Floridians for a Fair Democracy, was optimistic. “Forgiveness is something that’s inherent in everyone,” he explained.

Before 2018, Florida permanently banned ex-felons from voting unless they obtained clemency. Only Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Iowa permanently ban ex-felons from voting. According to Darryl Paulson, Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida, “Nobody disenfranchises more felons in the nation than Florida.”

HOW MANY CITIZENS WERE AFFECTED BY THE VOTING AMENDMENT?

In total, approximately 1.6 million citizens of Florida – and about one in four African-Americans are barred from casting a vote in our state.

In recent years, Republicans have generally opposed efforts to restore voting rights to ex-felons because of the impact those votes would have on elections. With one million more votes in the Democratic column, for instance, Donald Trump would not have won Florida, and neither Rick Scott nor Ron DeSantis would not have been elected governor.

If you have a felony conviction, learn more about the current law, clemency, expungements, and the sealing of criminal records by speaking to an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney.

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