JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 1 million people in Florida with felony convictions became eligible to register to vote Tuesday, as Amendment 4 went into effect -- and many of those newly eligible took advantage.
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said he anticipated a rush of people would register when his office opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
By the end of the day, Hogan said, 101 people with prior felony convictions had filed applications to have their voting rights restored.
Amendment 4, approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters in November, states that those convicted of a felony who complete all terms of their sentence will have their right to vote restored. The new law does not apply to people convicted of murder or sexual offenses.
One of those registering to vote Tuesday was Craig Aiken, the biological father of Kamiyah Mobley, who was at the center of a kidnapping story that garnered national attention when she was found in 2017, more than 18 years after she'd been stolen from a Jacksonville hospital on the day she was born.
Aiken, who was released from Florida prison in 2009 after serving time on a weapons charge, said it had been 10 years since he was last able to vote.
"You want to make a difference in this world, but your voice is not being heard or nobody wants to hear it because they think you're not a part of society anymore because you made a mistake," Aiken said. "We're here to let everyone know that we're still human and we have kids and we have rights and we have bills and we have everyday problems like everybody else. We're just here to fit in with society."
Aiken and others who showed up to register Tuesday said they were thankful that those who already had the right to vote supported them in November by passing Amendment 4.
"I want to say thank you for the voters for giving us a second chance to be human -- or to be treated
like humans. I would thank everybody for that," Aiken said.
Echoing that sentiment was Charles Tolbert and his wife, Loutricia. She got her voting rights reinstated years ago, but Charles waited 15 years -- until Tuesday.
"People always look at where you've been, as opposed to where you're going, so it's exciting for me to -- it is a new day not just for me, but a lot of other felons -- returning citizens," Charles Tolbert said.
Jerod Powers, a father of two, served more than five years for aggravated battery with a firearm and was released in 2002.
“I did my time. I did my probation,” Powers said. “I am glad they gave us our voice back.”
Florida was one of a few states whose Constitution permanently disenfranchised felons and granted only the governor and the state cabinet the authority to restore a person’s voting rights -- until Amendment 4 was passed by voters.
Before the SOE office opened Tuesday, the Northside Coalition and other community groups gathered to voice their support for those registering under the new law.
"We are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that this process runs smoothly at the county level and the state level," said Ben Frazier with the Northside Coalition.
Randy Reep, a criminal defense attorney, said his clients convicted of felonies have been passionate about Amendment 4.
“If we look back retrospectively, I think you will see a larger population of convicted felons who have their rights restored (will) vote than those who never lost them to begin with,” Reep said. “Those are people who have an actual interest.”
Hogan said his office usually has 13 days to process an application and get it to Tallahassee electronically. Then, the state will process the application as it relates to eligibility.
“It doesn’t have a whole lot of impact on my organization, except that we will be receiving a whole lot more applications, I am sure. The eligibility, or the verification -- if you will -- of the application is all done by the Secretary of State’s office,” Hogan explained. “We have extra application forms, made sure we have enough pens. We will process them as they come in.”
According to Hogan, the state will determine if an ex-con meets the criteria of Amendment 4 and will then inform the Supervisor of Elections Office, which will then notify that individual.
Anyone eligible can register to vote online or at public libraries, public assistance offices and tax collector's offices. To register online, go to registertovoteflorida.gov or get more information at https://www.duvalelections.com/.
The deadline for applications is 29 days before the city elections on March 19. Then registration will re-open ahead of the May 14 general election.