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Politics / Issues

Advocates Urge Ex-Felons To Vote After Florida Says They Get Regular Ballots

A row of men in orange jail jumpsuits sit with their hands clasped
Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media
"There is not a better evangelist for democracy than somebody who lost the right to vote and got it back," says Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Tens of thousands of returning citizens could vote in this year's election after serving time for felony convictions.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is continuing its push to help ex-felons vote.

It came after a lawyer for the state's top elections supervisor said they should be granted regular ballots, not provisional ones, whether in early voting or on Election Day.

FRRC deputy director Neil Volz said that's good news for tens of thousands of returning citizens.

"Our clear message is that if somebody is a registered voter and they know they have qualified and done everything they are supposed to do, they should go have their voice heard," Volz said after a bus tour that made stops in Palmetto and Bradenton Friday.

"If they've got questions, they should call the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and we can either talk through some specifics with them or connect them with an attorney if that's needed."

There have been plenty of twists and turns since voters approved Amendment 4, a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to Florida felons “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole and probation.”

Questions have remained about eligibility for some, and whether a 2019 state law requiring all fines and fees be paid first amounts to a poll tax.

According to the News Service of Florida, lawyers for voting rights advocates raised an alert about possible problems encountered by felons trying to cast ballots during the early voting period, which ends Sunday.

Attorney Ron Labasky then sent an email to supervisors, clarifying that ex-felons should be given a regular ballot, not a provisional one.

“Under the existing process, the supervisor, in my opinion, has to just go ahead and provide you (the felon) with a regular ballot, unless somebody has filed an actual challenge to your status and then, pursuant to the statute, you would be provided a provisional ballot,” Labasky, general counsel of the Florida Supervisors of Elections association, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.

According to Volz, 67,000 former felons registered to vote after the passage of Amendment 4, and another near 70,000 are on voting rolls because they received clemency.

“There is not a better evangelist for democracy than somebody who lost the right to vote and got it back. People are excited to have their voices heard, they are excited to be able to participate as full citizens of their community,” said Volz.