Beginning Jan. 8, more than a million new people may be able to register to vote in Florida. They’re convicted felons who have served their sentences and finished their parole or probation. In November, voters in the state overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to felons in Florida, convicted murderers and sex offenders excluded. It was one of the few remaining states to automatically restrict felons’ ability to vote. But the incoming governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, some state lawmakers and election officials say they need to weigh in on the amendment before any changes are made. “It says that voting rights ‘shall be restored.’ I don’t know what is unclear about that,” says Howard Simon, who was the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida for decades before retiring last month. He helped draft the ballot amendment and calls it “self-executing.” Meaning — no one has to touch it.
“We worked a year and a half on this language, intentionally, to say that there is no role for politicians, people in the legislature, people in the governor’s office, people in the secretary of state’s office.”
Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who ran against the amendment, declined a requests for an interview for this story, but his office sent this statement: “The Governor-elect intends for the will of the voters to be implemented but will look to the Legislature to clarify the various questions that have been raised.”
That’s worrying some activists. Local elections are taking place as early as Feb. 2019, in Florida and the legislature doesn’t meet until March.