Some Florida officials are balking at the state’s new amendment restoring voting rights to about 1.4 million people with felony records that is set to take effect Tuesday. Amendment 4, which Florida voters passed in November with nearly 65% support, re-enfranchises felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including probation or parole, but doesn’t apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Opponents, including Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, say before the amendment can be implemented, the legislature needs to pass a bill to clarify its terms and fulfill its intent. Supporters say it should be implemented immediately. The disagreement is generating confusion and the threat of lawsuits. The measure produced the largest expansion of voting rights in the U.S. since the 26th Amendment reduced the voting age to 18 in 1971. It could have significant implications in a state where elections often are decided by paper-thin margins.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which backed the amendment, says it is self-executing, meaning it takes immediate effect and requires no additional legislation. Newly enfranchised people covered by the measure can begin registering to vote on Tuesday, and state agencies and the legislature are responsible for ensuring the process runs smoothly, it says.
“They’re trying to circumvent the will of the voter by putting up all these roadblocks,” said Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida. She said the organization is prepared to sue if county or state officials fail to comply with the measure.
Mr. DeSantis, who will be sworn in on Tuesday, has said the amendment isn’t self-executing and requires clarification from the legislature, which convenes in March. That could affect voters hoping to participate in municipal elections scheduled for March.