In an emotional scene recorded by a number of both local and national media outlets, a handful of Sarasota residents whose right to vote was restored by the passage of Amendment 4 last November appeared this morning at Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner's office to fill out their voter registration forms. Amendment 4 was approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters; it restores voting rights for Florida citizens with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation, except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. The amendment went into effect Tuesday morning.
"Since we are able to register to vote, we now have a voice in the community in the state that we live in," said Demetrius Jifunza, the founder of the Sarasota chapter of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the group that led the effort to pass Amendment 4. Jifunza, 41, helmed a press conference outside Turner's office before himself registering to vote for the first time; he was convicted of armed robbery in 1995 and was last incarcerated in 2003. "Today is a new day," he said. "We understand that it is people over politics, love over all and respect for everyone, and today we all get to have a voice in this great state of Florida."
More than 65 percent of Sarasota County voters cast a ballot in favor of Amendment 4 last fall, but the number of county residents the measure will affect is difficult to measure. Over the past several years, thousands of voters have been removed from the voter rolls due to felony convictions, but that number doesn't include criminals who never registered to vote in the first place or those who completed their sentences years ago and have since been barred from registering. Statewide, the measure may affect as many as 1.6 million Floridians.
Turner's office recommends verifying that one's rights have been restored by contacting a court clerk or the Florida Department of Corrections before attempting to register. Some lawmakers have suggested that the registration process should be delayed until the Florida Legislature can weigh in during its next session, but Turner says his office will continue to accept registrations. "It's in the Constitution, I'm a constitutional officer, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, so we are carrying out the supreme law of Florida here in this office and we'll do the best we can," Turner said.