Voters with felony records ready to head to polls in March after rights restored

Tuesday is deadline to register to vote in Jacksonville's March 19 election

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote for Jacksonville's March 19 election, which includes the races for mayor, sheriff and City Council. 

The unitary election next month will be the first election in which those with felony convictions will be allowed to vote if their applications are approved by the Secretary of State’s Office. 

News4Jax contacted the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office and the Secretary of State’s Office and neither was able to provide exact numbers on how many applications have been approved, but on the first day people with felony convictions became eligible to vote, more than 100 people in Duval County applied to have their voting rights restored.

Jerod Powers, who spent five years in prison for aggravated battery with a firearm, runs a ministry for men while they are in prison and once they are released.

"I started Faith For Freedom in 2010," he explained. "One thing I tell them is, 'You have a voice and you have a vote.'"

After being released from prison, Powers went through the process to get his voting rights reinstated. But despite voting in several elections after his release, when he went to vote last year, he was told there was no record of him having his voting rights reinstated. 

He registered in January to restore his voting rights under Amendment 4, which was approved by 64 percent of Florida voters in November. It restores voting rights to people with felony convictions if they’ve completed all the terms of their sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. 

But some state officials think the Florida Legislature needs to specify the law more to avoid confusion. For instance, some question how officials determine whether felons have completed the terms of their sentences. Lawmakers are expected to discuss ways to address any confusion during the upcoming legislative session. 

In the meantime, voters like Powers will head to the polls next month. 

“I am a voice of those who have been incarcerated who are out. I’m a father of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. I’ve been married for 13 years. I’m a taxpayer," Powers said. "It’s important for me to know that my vote counts, my vote matters, and why that’s important is because there’s a 100,000 men and women in the Florida Department of Corrections that need to know that you can be restored, that your bad choices in the past don’t have to define you for your future.”

The upcoming legislative session begins March 5. 

Deadline to register

Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote in next month's city election.

The March 19 first election is not a primary, it's called a unitary election. It's open to all registered voters regardless of party affiliation and they can vote for any candidate on the ballot. 

In any race, a candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote is elected. If no one gets more than 50 percent, the top two candidates, regardless of party, will compete in a runoff in May.

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/.

Early voting for the first election is March 4 through March 17.

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