Ex-felons may not get voting rights back before Jacksonville elections

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis wants Legislature to address rules in March

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of the 27,000 people in Duval County who lost their right to vote when they were convicted of felonies will soon have that right restored. But exactly how soon is up to state officials, and it likely won't be in time for Jacksonville's March election for mayor, City Council members and other officials.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4 in November, which requires that voting rights be restored after felons serve their time. Some former felons may believe they can vote right way, but there is confusion about how soon the new rule will be implemented.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said he will allow anyone to register who believes they are eligible, but the rest is up to the state.

"When they come in to update their registration, if they check they are not a convicted felon or that the rights of been restored, we accept that on face value," Hogan said. "We do know. We accept an application and (forward it) to Tallahassee."

While campaigning for governor, Ron DeSantis said he opposed the restoration of rights.

“I don't want to be giving rights, restoring rights to people who have not proven that they can integrate back into society," DeSantis said.

While Amendment 4 technically takes effect Jan. 8, now that he's governor-elect, DeSantis says the Florida Legislature must pass a law before felons can register. Lawmakers don’t meet until March, so it is unlikely that law would be in place before elections in both Jacksonville and Tampa.

Lawyers told Senate President Bill Galvano said the amendment is most likely self-executing.

“It's something that I want to take another look at, but if I had to err, I would err on the side of it being self-executing,” Galvano said.

Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chair Dennis Baxley said some details need to be worked out. 

“If there's any delay it may be just in the validation of eligibility,” Baxley said.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said DeSantis’ comments won't stop him from registering felons right away.

“The only one that I know that could potentially stop us from doing our job as we see it would be a judge,” Earley said.

Some of the same groups that campaigned for the amendment are saying implementation needs to happen immediately.

Whenever the felons get their voting rights restored, it won't apply to everyone who has done time. Those convicted of murder and sex crimes are not eligible, even when their sentence is completed.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.