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Former felons demand legislators fully restore voting rights

Amendment 4 was passed, but hasn't been fully implemented

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Newly enfranchised felons who have completed their sentences rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning, reminding lawmakers of their newfound civic voices and bringing their issues to the table.

With the passage of Amendment 4, an estimated 1.4 million felons who have completed their sentence earned the right to vote back. 

Arthur White from Tampa is one of them.

“I have an opinion again. I count again,” said White.

He was among hundreds of newly enfranchised Floridians who came from all over the state to meet with lawmakers. They want legislators to think of them as returning citizens, not former criminals.

"This year our voices count, and it is up to each and every one of us to stand up and fight to change the policies that create barriers to reentry,” said Jessica Younts, vice president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC).

The coalition estimates more than 1,000 new voters have registered as a result of Amendment 4. It expects that number to rise exponentionally after it launches a full-ledged registration campaign.

Amendment 4 author Desmond Meade says the goal is to make sure no newly eligible voter is prevented from registering.

“We believe that every elected official in Tallahassee, and they should, be celebrating American citizens having the right to vote and exercising that right to vote,” said Meade.

One sticking point in early legislative discussions, is what does or does not constitute a completion of sentence.

Neil Volz with FRRC believes once a person is released and has paid any fines or restitution ordered by a judge, a person becomes eligible.

“And we believe that going beyond that would disenfranchise people from voting,” said Volz.

Other issues the new voter base wants lawmakers to consider include raising the felony theft threshold and breaking down barriers that prevent felons from getting a job after they’re released.