A key Senate panel on Tuesday began grappling with how to carry out a constitutional amendment that “automatically” restores the right to vote to felons who’ve completed their sentences. At the outset of the meeting, Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Keith Perry vowed not to have “any kind of hindrance or roadblocks” in implementing Amendment 4, approved by nearly 65 percent of voters in November. At the top of the to-do list for the committee: figure out the definition of “murder.” The amendment granted “automatic” restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” The amendment excluded people “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.” But a 90-minute Criminal Justice Committee panel discussion Tuesday revealed confusion about the “murder” exception.
“It’s an important point that we have to wrestle with here,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who is on the committee and chairs the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
County elections officials — who use a variety of databases to verify voters’ eligibility — are relying on the state to flag people who are ineligible to vote after they’ve registered.
But state Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews said her office needs the Legislature to clarify what types of convictions the murder exclusion captures, noting that the homicide statute includes a broad swath of crimes.