Amendment 4 supporters urge Floridians to restore felons' voting rights

Marissa Alexander among panelists at Amendment 4 forum in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Amendment 4 on the November ballot, the goal for its supporters is to make sure it gets passed by Florida voters. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would restore voting rights to former felons if they have served their time, with the exception of those who have committed crimes like murder or sex offenses.

At an Amendment 4 forum Wednesday in Jacksonville, two people convicted of felonies talked about the impact the amendment will have on them. 

Marissa Alexander and Joe Manuola were both previously convicted of felonies and have paid for their crimes, but like so many other Floridians with felony convictions, they are not allowed to vote. 

"It's a part of casting your voice in the electoral process, your civic engagement, being able to be a part of things and laws and legislation that is going to impact you, ultimately. So being able to be a part of that is a huge part of re-entering and building back your life," said Alexander, who was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after firing a warning shot in the direction of her estranged husband who she argued was abusing her.

Alexander is now a free woman. She completed the final two years of her sentence on house arrest, after agreeing to a plea deal in late 2014.

She and Manuola were both panelists at Wednesday's forum, which was held to educate voters on why they should vote "yes" on Amendment 4.

"It's a shame that they want to make a difference and they don't have the opportunity. As a matter of fact, they're being stopped from that," Manuola said. "I really believe others like me should have a stake in society and I believe Amendment 4 will do that."

Florida currently joins Kentucky and Iowa as the only three states in the United States that ban all people convicted of felonies from voting, even after they have paid their debt to society.

"I’ve had people from Alabama, they passed their law and restored rights as well, and I had people from all over send me their voter registration card to Facebook to just say, 'I’m able to vote now,'" Alexander said. "Now they’re rooting for Florida to do the same.”

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Amendment 4, heavily bankrolled by the ACLU, would automatically restore the right to vote for people who were convicted of felonies and who have completed their sentences, paid restitution and fulfilled parole or probation requirements. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded.

Backers of the amendment estimate that about 1.4 million Floridians would have their voting rights restored, if the required 60 percent of voters approve the proposal.

Alexander and Manuola would both meet the qualifications should Amendment 4 pass. 

With voters already receiving mail-in ballots, organized opposition to Amendment 4 has not emerged.

But critics of the measure -- including Gov. Rick Scott and former Congressman Ron DeSantis, who’s in a heated contest with Democrat Andrew Gillum to replace the governor -- maintain that the proposal treats convicted felons too leniently.

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