The Department of State clarified Saturday that it will register any voters who fill out their registration with “all information necessary for an application to be consider complete has been received, including verifying the driver license number, the Florida state ID card number or the last four digits of the social security number as provided by the applicant,” a department spokeswoman said.
The state accepts voter registrations at face value and only removes voters after the fact once it finds out a voter is not qualified. The department has put a pause to checking felony backgrounds for now.
On Tuesday, Florida’s citizens who have previously been convicted of a felony will try to register to vote. Whether they will actually be registered is anyone’s guess.
Amendment 4, which 65 percent of Florida voters approved in November, says that anyone convicted of a felony other than murder or a sex offense should have their voting rights restored once they complete their sentence, including probation. The amendment goes into effect Jan. 8.
In Northeast Florida, the supervisors of election all say they are ready to accept voter registration forms from anyone on Tuesday. But elections supervisors don’t register voters. The Florida secretary of state does.
Current Secretary of State Ken Detzner hasn’t said what he will do come Jan. 8.
Duval Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said Detzner promised to provide an answer before the end of December, but that answer never came.
Detzner’s office only said that Amendment 4 would become effective Jan. 8 and that the “Department of State will abide by any future direction from the Executive Clemency Board or the Florida Legislature regarding necessary action or implementing legislation to ensure full compliance with the law.”
Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis said despite the change in Florida’s Constitution, the state should not allow people with felony convictions to be registered to vote until the Legislature passes a law implementing it, which he said won’t take place until after Jacksonville’s March elections for mayor and sheriff.
But DeSantis’ own pick for secretary of state, Seminole Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel, has said Amendment 4 should be implemented immediately. Although his job requires Senate confirmation, he is expected to take over the job on Tuesday. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.
One of the things that remains to be seen is how Amendment 4 is interpreted. The amendment said: “Any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.”
But it’s not clear in the amendment whether court costs, which are typically assigned to defendants, are part of the terms of sentence. So if a defendant has served his or her prison and probation sentence but can’t afford to pay the court costs, will the state let him or her vote? No one knows.
“On Jan. 8, we’re open for anybody and everybody that’s eligible,” Hogan said. “But the burden of eligibility is on them.”
He said the supervisors take applications at face value.
The ACLU of Florida, which had a hand in drafting the amendment, sent a guidance letter to Secretary Detzner. The letter argues that the amendment is self-executing, that existing voter registration forms don’t need to be updated, that the state already has the ability to confirm eligibility and that only fees specifically identified as part of a criminal sentence should be required to be paid before someone can register to vote.
Melba Pearson, the deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, said whether those fees count as part of a sentence would need to be decided on a case by case basis. “If you’re on probation and you’re told you have to pay $500 in restitution, then that’s part of your sentence and you have to pay that.”
At the same time, she said, “We don’t want to have a situation where because someone is poor they are prohibited from voting, too.”
Andrew Pantazi: (904) 359-4310