Bill to address restoration of ex-cons' voting rights

State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) plans to file a bill in hopes of establishing order to the new amendment to the state constitution that allows felons who have served their time to register to vote.

Approved by 64 percent of voters in November, Amendment 4 is supposed to give back the right to vote to 1.5 million Floridians who were once convicted of felony charges by January 8. According to the amendment, sex offenders convicted of felonies and those convicted of murder would be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

The procedure for putting them back on the voter rolls, however, has not been determined. Supervisors of elections, including Michael Bennett from Manatee County, want to know what's next.

"Amendment 4 is a real problem," said Bennet. "We do not have any information from the state on how we are going to implement it."

For example: Who certifies when a sentence has been served? Is a sentence complete when someone gets out of jail, or is it after probation? Is it when they pay fines? Who tells a supervisor to un-flag someone's ID - the state, a sheriff's office, the state attorney, or someone else? Does a felon have to be notified they're eligible? Whose job would that be?

"So we need to answer those questions," Sen. Rouson said.

He points out there's a mayoral election in Tampa in March. He will file a bill that would dedicate two staffers in Tallahassee and set up a phone hotline for convicted felons to get information on registering to vote.

"What the legislature needs to do is provide guidance," he said. "We need to work quickly in doing that, and honor the will of the people."

The Civil Liberties Union told reporters in Tallahassee that the burden is on government officials to confirm whether a voter is eligible, whether they're a felon or not. 

But the secretary of state's office says it's up to the legislature. 

"There are going to be a lot of felons, ex-felons, who are going to show up at the supervisor's office, they will want to vote in the next election, and we won't have the information to clear it," said Bennett.

With Tampa holding an election in March, it is unclear if there is enough time for the legislature to pass the new rules, given March is also when they are scheduled to go into full session.