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Advocates fear incoming Florida governor is trying to slow voting rights initiative

Amendment 4 is supposed to take effect January 8, restoring voting rights to nearly 1.5 million Floridians. But the initiative isn’t necessarily guaranteed — at least right away.​

by Emma Ockerman
Dec 14 2018, 7:56pm

Voting rights advocates are furious that Florida’s governor-elect, Ron DeSantis, appears to be mulling ways to slow the implementation of a widely approved November ballot initiative that restores voting power to nonviolent felons at the end of their sentences.

Amendment 4 is supposed to take effect January 8, restoring voting rights to nearly 1.5 million Floridians. But the initiative isn’t necessarily guaranteed — at least right away.

Florida was previously among the three states in the nation where convicted felons automatically lost their right to vote, requiring Floridians to appeal directly to the governor if they wanted their rights restored. On November 6, however, nearly 66 percent of the state’s voters elected to turn that around. The state has a higher-than-average incarceration rate, largely made up of people of color, and advocates had long argued that restricting voting rights mostly disenfranchised minority groups who might otherwise participate in their democracy.

But DeSantis, a Republican and staunch Donald Trump supporter who previously declared his opposition to the initiative, told the Palm Beach Post Wednesday he doesn’t foresee rolling the initiative out any time soon. Before anything reaches his desk, he said, the state’s legislature, which is GOP-controlled, will have to approve “implementing language.”

“They’re going to be able to do that in March,” DeSantis said, referring to a legislative session that begins in March, ensuring at least a two-month delay for the initiative. “There’s no way you can go through this session without implementing it.”

Advocates are saying it’s not clear where DeSantis got that idea, and they’re worried he’ll try to delay the rollout of Amendment 4 as long as possible, or allow legislators to insert language that makes its full implementation more difficult. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida warned in a news release Thursday that the bill is self-executing, meaning it’s simply added to the state’s constitution, as approved by voters, without need for legislative action. The ACLU sent a letter to the secretary of state arguing the office should ensure that role is protected.

“The fact that the governor-elect is saying it’s the legislature’s job to implement this is not what the people voted for. It was written in a way that would be automatically executed,” Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, told VICE News. “It’s absolutely outrageous.”

Cover image: Voters fill out their ballots as they cast their vote at a polling station setup in Legion Park for the mid-term election on November 06, 2018 in Miami, Florida. The political races for the Senate and House are being hotly contested across the country. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)