State likely to face difficulties vetting felons for voting eligibility

Published: Jun. 28, 2019 at 5:48 PM CDT
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Governor Ron DeSantis has signed legislation implementing the felons’ rights amendment.

The most controversial aspect of the Amendment Four implementing bill is that felons must first pay outstanding court fines and fees along with restitution before they become eligible for voting rights restoration, but there’s a problem. There is currently no unified database documenting who has paid what.

The lack of a database is a concern for Election Supervisors who are responsible for registering newly eligible voters, like Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley.

"Some counties don't even... really even have databases, it seems to be more of a paper trail kind of thing where you have to go back into filing cabinets,” said Earley, who doubles as the Secretary of Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections. "We're trying to evaluate and make it very effective and efficient, but it’s certainly difficult."

After the legislation passed, the Governor said the fines, fees and restitution requirement has his support.

“As a prosecutor, there were times when restitution was more important than incarceration,” said DeSantis.

The Governor has even gone as far as making the payment of outstanding financial obligations a condition when granting pardons through the Board of Executive Clemency.

“I just think that when you pay your debt that includes whatever you were sentenced to so if you’re willing to do that I’ll move to grant you a pardon,” said DeSantis.

Supervisors said those unsure of their status shouldn’t be afraid of registering at this point. Generally, if an honest mistake was made, the likely repercussion would be removed from the rolls.

“If it's an uncertainty, they can go ahead and get registered because they think they're qualified, they're eligible again, they're not going to be prosecuted,” said Earley.

Felons who have already registered improperly after the amendment took effect January 8 and before the bill’s effective date of July 1 are immune from prosecution altogether.

After July 1, ineligible felons who intentionally register could face a third-degree felony.

The bill does task the Department of State with creating a database to track fines and fees, but until that’s complete, determining eligibility will be an ongoing issue.

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