More than 1.4 million convicted felons gained the right to vote back after Florida passed an amendment to its constitution last year. But getting the amendment passed was just the first hurdle for advocates hoping to re-enfranchise those citizens.
Now, some are worried that calls by Republican leaders in the state to pass legislation clarifying the amendment could end up undercutting it.
Ion Sancho, who served as the Leon County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections for nearly three decades, told VICE News that Florida has been the “genesis of the modern era of voter suppression tactics” — and that talk from GOP state lawmakers about legislating the amendment could be yet another example.
“I am anticipating that they’re going to try to slow-walk it,” he said of Republicans in the state legislature. “They’re going to try to put any kind of impediment they can. “
So far, there are no specific proposals on the table concerning the amendment from Florida legislators. But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, says he and other skeptics of the amendment are simply considering options to make it easier for both ex-felons and state officials to verify who’s eligible.
“Whatever we’re doing is going to be about compliance,” he said. “Anything we would do would be how do we validate that…so that there is not mishap or an opening for mischief.”
Baxley pointed to the fact that there is currently no centralized database in Florida where ex-felons can confirm that they’ve finished all the terms of their sentence, a requirement to be able to register under the new amendment. Supervisors of Elections also can’t independently confirm eligibility, and were given no guidance from the Secretary of State on how to implement the amendment.
Still, advocates of the change say they’re ready for any attempts to slow-walk the law, and willing to fight such efforts in court. In the meantime, says Demetrius Jifunza, an ex-felon who fought for the amendment and registered the first day he was eligible, advocates for the amendment are going to focus their efforts on getting people registered and involved in politics — so they can combat any attempts to take their rights away again.
“So, you know, it’s politics and it’s Florida. I mean you could snowball things, put language into something to hold things up,” he acknowledged.
But Jifunza added: “The only way to combat that is if we stay on top of things.”
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