Coral Nichols will be eligible to vote when she’s 190. That’s assuming the 40-year-old Floridian — who served five years in prison for fraud and embezzlement, followed by nearly 10 years on probation — is able to keep up with her $100 monthly restitution payments. Jermaine Miller thought he had fully repaid the $223.80 he owed in restitution for a 2015 robbery and trespass conviction. In fact, he paid $18.20 more than that, but Florida says he still has a balance due of $1.11 because of a 4 percent surcharge on restitution payments. On top of that, Mr. Miller owes $1,221 in court costs and fines, which he doesn’t have the money to pay. Ms. Nichols and Mr. Miller are two of more than 1.4 million Floridians with criminal records who have spent the last year Ping-Ponging between hope and despair over whether they can exercise their most fundamental constitutional right — the right to vote. Last November, nearly two-thirds of the state’s voters approved Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that erased Florida’s 150-year ban on voting by people with felony convictions, except for those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. It was one of the nation’s biggest expansions of voting rights in decades. Florida, which was one of just four states that imposed a lifetime voting ban, bars a higher percentage of its citizens from voting than any other state. The state also accounts for more than one in four citizens disenfranchised nationwide. But Florida’s Republican lawmakers decided Amendment 4 was too much democracy for their taste. In June, after thousands of formerly incarcerated people — including Jermaine Miller — had registered to vote, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law passed on party lines that effectively reinstates the ban for most of them, and for hundreds of thousands more people who had not yet registered.
Tennessee lawmakers are considering a move to make it easier for some felons to get their voting rights restored. The legislation would lift the Republican-led state’s unique requirement for formerly incarcerated individuals to be up-to-date on child support before restoration of voting rights, in addition to other court fines and restitution. It would also aim to simplify the bureaucratic process for those people to get their rights back once they’re out of prison and off parole and probation. The legislation has made partners of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and Americans for Prosperity, who headlined a news event Wednesday touting the bill. Tori Venable, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said the legislation offers common ground for her group, at times perceived as right-leaning, and the ACLU, sometimes thought of as left-leaning.
Two Tennessee state lawmakers on Wednesday introduced bills to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions after they serve their sentences. State Sen. Steven Dickerson (R) and State Rep. Michael Curcio (R) introduced bills in the state Senate and state House of Representatives, respectively. The bills restore “the voting rights of persons convicted of certain infamous crimes upon receipt of a pardon or completion of any sentence of incarceration,” according to a statement. Dickerson said the bill would exclude people who have been convicted of murder, aggravated rape, treason or voter fraud, but that all other felons would see their rights restored.
It’s deadline day at the state capitol – and there’s a last-minute push to restore voting rights for felons here in Mississippi. … This latest effort centers around Mississippi ‘s constitutional lifetime voting ban if someone is convicted of a felony. Mississippi is one of only 3 states with a lifetime ban— crimes that can get you disenfranchised range from larceny to murder. One Mississippian who was convicted of a felony as a juvenile is a part of a lawsuit going after the state for this law. He says he deserves to be able to vote because he did his time, then stayed away from trouble and now he is trying to set an example for his young children.
Renee Brown-Goodell is not shy about introducing herself as a felon, a label she has carried without shame after spending more than four years in federal prison for a 2012 fraud conviction. But it still stings that she was forced to sit out the past two elections: Her right to vote remains out of reach until she completes her post-prison supervised release. “I’m out here and I’m expected to work, I’m expected to pay taxes and take care of my family and behave like a regular American citizen should behave,” Brown-Goodell said. “And yet I’m not a regular American citizen because you have stripped away my rights to be a regular American citizen.”
Iowa: A constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights may hinge on requirement to fully pay restitution | Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to amend the Iowa Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons will face opposition from lawmakers who insist criminals must first repay all court-ordered restitution, legal and civil rights advocacy groups said. The proposal as currently written would restore voter rights to felons after they complete their sentence. More than 50,000 people would be affected. But some lawmakers have said felons should additionally be required to complete repayment of their court-ordered restitution before being allowed to cast ballots. No groups have registered in opposition to her plan. A legislative subcommittee will meet to discuss the issue for the first time Thursday at noon.
Nearly 50,000 Californians currently on parole could regain the right to vote under a voting rights bill introduced on Monday. A group of Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a state constitutional amendment already coined the Free the Vote Act and are hoping to restore parolees’ voting rights in an effort to cut down statewide recidivism rates. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, wants California to build on momentum gained last November in Florida where voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that restored voting rights to most felons who have completed sentences. He said that “roughly half of the states in the country are more progressive” than California in allowing felons and parolees the chance to vote, including Republican-led states like Maine, North Dakota and Utah.
More than two weeks after Amendment 4 expanded voting rights to more than a million ex-felons in Florida, nagging questions over details persist. And as state officials wait on lawmakers for answers, advocates are getting frustrated. Some 45 people turned out for a panel discussion Saturday where activists celebrated the landmark law. But irritation simmered under the surface, rising when they couldn’t provide concrete answers to questions about eligibility and penalties. The amendment, passed in November’s general election, allows citizens who aren’t convicted murderers or sex offenders to register to vote as soon as they complete their sentences. Previously, a felony conviction meant lifetime disenfranchisement unless a person overcame long odds with the state’s clemency board. Now the problem is this question: what constitutes a murder conviction? Differences between charges have led lawmakers to begin debating which crimes outlined in the state’s homicide statute should exclude ex-felons from voting — to the chagrin of the law’s advocates.
Florida: Legislature starts work on Amendment 4 with confusion over ‘murder’ exception | Tampa Bay Times
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.
Confusion reigned while lawmakers discussed the implementation of Amendment 4, the restoration of voting rights for certain felons who have completed their sentence. The tone and direction of the exchange in a Senate committee room Tuesday was just what proponents feared if lawmakers got their hands on the voter-approved initiative. Some Supervisor of Elections Offices began to register eligible felons on Jan. 8 although Gov. Ron DeSantis has urged them to wait until the Legislature clarifies implementation of the initiative during the upcoming session.
Iowa: Reynolds’ proposal to restore felon voting rights requires probation, parole | Des Moines Register
Felons in Iowa would be allowed to register to vote after completing their prison sentences, probation and parole under a proposed constitutional amendment Gov. Kim Reynolds released Tuesday. Reynolds proposed restoring felon voting rights in her Condition of the State address last week. Iowa is one of two states that permanently bar felons from voting unless they successfully petition the governor or president to restore their rights. To be enacted, the proposal would need to pass the Legislature twice and then be approved by voters. “I do think Iowans are at a place that they believe that this is the right direction to go, but ultimately, they’ll be the ones to have a say in that,” Reynolds said.
During his State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy voiced support for allowing convicted felons to have the right to vote after they’ve been released from prison and are on probation or parole. New Jersey law requires felons to complete their sentence and no longer be on parole or probation in order to be able to register to cast a ballot. Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, supports the governor’s position. “I don’t think anybody should ever lose the right to vote in this state. If somebody is eligible to vote, they should always be eligible,” Sinha said.
New Jersey: Murphy Calls for Returning Right to Vote to Felons on Probation or Parole | NJ Spotlight
Gov. Phil Murphy wasn’t shy about patting himself and lawmakers on the back in his State of the State speech for making it easier both to register to vote and to cast a ballot. But he also wants to increase the number of registered voters by re-enfranchising felons on probation or parole, a controversial initiative. This marked Murphy’s first public support for the concerted effort, launched last year by a number of progressive advocacy groups and legislators, to undo a 175-year-old law that strips the right to vote from those convicted of serious crimes until they have completed their entire sentence. But the governor stopped short of fully embracing legislation — embodied in S-2100 and A-3456 — that would return the right to vote to those who are incarcerated. “Let’s open the doors to our democracy even wider,” Murphy said toward the end of his speech to a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday. “Let’s restore voting rights for individuals on probation or parole, so we can further their reentry into society. And we further their reentry into society by allowing them to exercise the most sacred right offered by our society — the right to vote.”
Some lawmakers in Tennessee are pushing legislation that would grant convicted felons a second chance at the right to vote. Currently, there are more than 400,000 convicted felons across the state of Tennessee who don’t have that right. But a bill put forth by Democratic State Senator Brenda Gilmore from Nashville could change that. “My view is if you want people to act civilized and be civilized, you have to treat them in a civilized manner,” said Democratic District 28 State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem.
Gov. Kim Reynolds will propose a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons in a Condition of the State address that highlights “the beauty of grace” and second chances. “Talk with someone who, by their own actions, hit rock bottom but decided to turn their life around,” Reynolds will say Tuesday, according to her prepared remarks, portions of which were shared exclusively with the Des Moines Register. “Watch their face light up when they tell you about the person who offered them a helping hand. … There are few things as powerful as the joy of someone who got a second chance and found their purpose.”
Florida: Amendment 4 leads to massive daily registration numbers for a non-election year | Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay treated Tuesday like a voting rights holiday. Or, more accurately, Tampa Bay treated Tuesday like it was a business day in September or October just weeks before a presidential election. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties processed a combined 872 applications to register to vote on the day, the first day Amendment 4 expanded voting rights access to most felons who had completed their sentences. You can look at that number in two ways. In one way, it’s tiny: There are likely more than 130,000 people who just gained their right to vote in those counties, according to a Times analysis. In another way, it’s enormous. There is no general election in 2019, and off-years rarely see a day where more than a few hundred people register to vote in the region.
There is a proven fix for Iowa’s felon voting ban that has mistakenly rejected the ballots of law-abiding Iowans: Let felons vote once they’ve served their time, dozens of civil and legal groups say. It’s an idea Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff is reviewing with some key lawmakers in her party, a state senator said recently. Reynolds could make the change by executive order, but both the Republican senator and a Democratic House member said they want to look at legislative action to change the system in some way this year. “We need to talk about this in a way that gets rid of those pejorative attitudes about criminal reform that are just getting us stuck,” said Myrna Loehrlein, the chairwoman of a justice committee with the League of Women Voters of Iowa.
Kentucky has some of the nation’s highest rates of residents who can’t vote because of felony convictions — but a recent federal lawsuit is seeking to change that. The same national civil rights group that got a judge to declare Florida’s practices for restoring voting rights unconstitutional is targeting Kentucky’s restoration procedures. The suit, initially filed last year in U.S. District Court in Louisville by a single felon, was joined last week by the Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. It was amended to add three more plaintiffs who argue Kentucky’s procedures for restoring voting rights are arbitrary and unconstitutional.
For now, Virginia will remain among a trio of states — joining only Kentucky and Iowa — with a lifetime ban on voting rights for people convicted of a felony. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections killed an attempt to allow Virginians who have been convicted of a felony to vote. Currently, the Virginia Constitution says felons cannot vote unless their civil rights have been restored by the governor or other authorities. Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, proposed a resolution — SJ 261 — to delete that passage from the state Constitution. On an 8-6 vote at the committee’s meeting on Wednesday, Locke’s proposed constitutional amendment was “passed by indefinitely,” meaning that it likely is dead for this legislative session. The vote was split down party lines on the 14-member committee, with all eight Republicans voting to kill the measure.
More than 1 million Floridians with felony convictions regained the right to vote on Tuesday, setting in motion a process that carries the potential to reshape elections in the country’s largest and most unpredictable battleground state. The mass re-enfranchisement of felons who have completed their sentences is the result of Amendment 4, a ballot initiative approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters in November that ends a longtime policy requiring felons to petition the state clemency board for their voting rights to be restored. The move expands the pool of eligible voters in Florida by roughly 1.4 million people — a significant number in a state where elections are often decided by fewer than 100,000 votes — setting off a scramble to register eligible felons.
Florida: ‘I became somebody’: Former felons register to vote in Florida through Amendment 4 | Miami Herald
For the past 25 years, Anthony Bushell has served as his community’s unofficial Election Day chauffeur, transporting the elderly and homeless to and from polling places for local, statewide and federal races. And every election, while the voters Bushell ferried cast their ballots, his criminal record has kept him on the political sidelines. His last vote came in the 1992 presidential election for Bill Clinton, who was then the governor of Arkansas. On Tuesday, Bushell walked out of the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Office a newly registered voter, one of several formerly incarcerated Floridians to register to vote after the passage of constitutional Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for an estimated 1.2 million felons — as many as 400,000 of those in South Florida, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.
In Louisiana, criminal offenders released from prison often linger in the purgatory of parole for years, or even decades, stripped of key civil rights. Because the Bayou State only restores voting rights to felons who complete probation or parole, some who get caught up in the system die before regaining the franchise. Those are the people whom state Rep. Patricia Smith wanted to help last year. Smith introduced a bill to restore voting rights to felons who’ve been on parole without problems for five years after their release from prison, as well as those who are on probation for five years. After three rounds of revisions, the bill passed the House in a squeaker of a vote, sailed through the Senate, and was signed into law as Act 636 by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) last May. But in December, stories started appearing in the local press suggesting that the law may apply to many more people than the 2,000-3,000 it was expected to affect. The actual number, according to advocacy groups and state prison officials, may be more like 36,000.
Florida: State Set to Restore Voting Rights to Felons Amid Threats of Lawsuits | Wall Street Journal
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.
Florida: ‘A joyous day’ ahead as 1.4 million Florida ex-felons have voting rights restored | The Washington Post
One of the largest enfranchisements of U.S. citizens in the past century begins Tuesday in Florida, and many of the more than 1.4 million ex-felons set to regain their voting rights here are treating the moment as a celebration. In Tampa, one group is renting buses to register en masse at the county elections office. Others will be live-streaming on Facebook as they march in. Demetrius Jifunza, convicted as a teen of armed robbery, is now a father and pastor who wants to make his daughters proud. “It’ll be a joyous day,” Jifunza said of the trip to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office, a journey made possible when voters in November overturned Florida’s 1868 ban blocking residents with felony convictions from automatically having their voting rights restored once they served their sentences. In the run-up to Tuesday, the organizations and volunteers who worked for the past decade to pass the amendment to the state constitution have been ramping up their efforts to encourage ex-felons to quickly follow through. There’s a toll-free number, 877-MY-VOTE-0, and a website with tips.
Next Tuesday, more than a million ex-felons will get their chance to register to vote again. This comes after more than 60 percent of Florida residents voted to approve Amendment 4 in November giving felons convicted of non-violent crimes who have served their time and paid all court fees the right to vote. Prior to Amendment 4, felons had to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request to restore their voting rights with the Florida governor and Cabinet. About 1.5 million people are affected. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences. However, some ex-felons worry there may be a delay in restoring their voting rights after Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post last month that the amendment should take effect after lawmakers meet in March and pass “implementing language” in a bill that he signs.
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.
The Sentencing Commission Wednesday voted to once again get behind any bill that would restore voting rights to parolees, who are still serving their sentences. The commission also backed the measure last year — but it never came up for a vote in either the House or Senate. Outgoing Department of Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple, who is also a Sentencing Commission member, said allowing parolees to vote is an “important step in their return to a normal and productive life.” The bill didn’t receive much attention last year in the midst of the budget crisis that dominated most of the session, but it was a priority for the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
When Florida voters approved a sweeping ballot initiative last month to restore the voting rights of some felons, advocates rejoiced in the expectation that more than a million people would soon have the chance to add their names to the voter rolls. Now, a fight is brewing between the broad coalition of civil and voting rights groups that backed the measure and some state and local officials who argue that lawmakers must shape its implementation given the wide-ranging nature of the initiative. That has raised concerns among some of the measure’s supporters that any action by opponents could lead to legislation that lingers in the state Capitol, months after they expected it to begin. The growing uncertainty over how — and when — the measure, known as Amendment 4, will take effect has stirred confusion among county election officials and raised the prospect of a bitter legal dispute over the voting rights of roughly 1.4 million people convicted of felonies.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature approved a new law last spring restoring voting rights to former felons still under supervision, it was expected to give around 2,200 people the right to vote starting next March. Now, advocates and elected officials are saying the number could be as many as 36,000. Officials were aware the new law would restore voting rights to people living in the community on parole with no problems for five years after they have been released from prison. It was also acknowledged that it would benefit people who are on probation for five years. Those groups combined are fairly small, only a couple thousand people, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections. But legislators, advocates and prison officials are now saying the law might also apply to the vast majority of people on probation — including those under supervision for fewer than five years — who have had their voting rights suspended. Natalie LaBorde, deputy commissioner with the Department of Corrections, confirmed the revised estimates.
Elections officials across Florida say they expect former felons to flock to their offices to register to vote next month when a newly passed ballot initiative launches one of the largest enfranchisement efforts in modern U.S. history. But partisan politics and logistical questions are clouding the Jan. 8 rollout of a state constitutional amendment that could restore voting rights to more than 1 million ex-felons in Florida. Democrats and voting rights advocates cried foul this week when Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, a Republican and critic of the measure known as Amendment 4, said the Republican-controlled state legislature must first pass a law to implement its changes.