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.
“I understand why folks have questions. But the answer to those questions are not particularly difficult,” Kirk Bailey, Florida political director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said at the discussion hosted by the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club.
The state agency tasked with denying ineligible voters disagrees.
Last week, Florida Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews said her office wants the Legislature to clearly define which violations count as murder. Matthews mentioned attempted murder and partial birth abortion as potentially contested laws.