SARASOTA, Florida — More than 1.4 million convicted felons in Florida regained the right to vote after the state's voters passed an amendment to its constitution through a ballot initiative in last fall's election. But some advocates worry that Republican leaders may try to obstruct passage of the legislation.
Ion Sancho, who served as the Leon County Supervisor of Elections for nearly three decades, told VICE News that Florida has been the “genesis of the modern era of voter-suppression tactics” — and that talk from GOP state lawmakers about clarifying the amendment could be yet another example.
“I am anticipating that they're going to try to slow-walk it,” he said of Republicans in the state legislature. “They're going to try to put any kind of impediment they can."
The amendment would restore voting rights to the roughly 10 percent of Florida's adult population that have a past felony conviction, excluding convictions for murder or sexual offenses.
So far, there are no specific proposals on the table concerning the amendment from the state's legislators. But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, says he and other skeptics of the amendment are simply considering options to make it easier for both ex-felons and state officials to verify who’s eligible.
“Whatever we're doing is going to be about compliance,” he said. “Anything we would do would be how do we validate that…so that there is not a mishap or an opening for mischief.”
Baxley pointed to the lack of a centralized database in Florida where ex-felons can confirm that they’ve finished all the terms of their sentence, a requirement to be able to register under the new amendment. Supervisors of Elections also can’t independently confirm eligibility, and were given no guidance from the Secretary of State on how to implement the amendment.
Still, advocates of the change say they’re ready for any attempts to slow-walk the law, and willing to fight such efforts in court. In the meantime, says Demetrius Jifunza, an ex-felon who fought for the amendment and registered the first day he was eligible, advocates for the amendment are going to focus their efforts on getting people registered and involved in politics, so they can combat any attempts to take their rights away again.
“So, you know, it's politics and it's Florida. I mean you could snowball things, put language into something to hold things up,” he acknowledged.
But Jifunza added: "The only way to combat that is if we stay on top of things.”
This segment originally aired January 17, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.