Ex-felons register to vote as amendment goes into effect

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Dwight Simmons
Dwight Simmons registers to vote Tuesday at the event organized by the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP.
DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

It was an emotional day for many ex-felons as Amendment 4 went into effect Tuesday in Florida.

Across the state, voter registration drives were held this week, specifically for former felons.

In November, Amendment 4 passed by 65 percent or by 5.2 million votes. The amendment restores voting rights to ex-felons who have finished all the criteria of their sentences except for those currently on parole or probation, sex offenders and violent offenders.

‘A civic duty’

The Daytona Beach/Volusia County NAACP held an Ex-Felons Voters Restoration and Voter’s Registration Drive at the John H. Dickerson Center on Tuesday night.

“It’s a civic duty to vote and be educated in the voting process. We must protect their vote. Now that we have ex-felons that can vote. Many have waited for more than 10 years. They now get a chance to make a difference in their community, state and country,” said Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County/ Daytona Beach NAACP.

Just 58 former felons showed up at the Dickerson Center, but Slater was satisfied.

“It went pretty steady for the first time doing it. People trickled in and out, but not in large numbers. We did expect more people to come out and register, but I am satisfied. This is a start,” Slater responded.

‘A big deal’

For those who came out to register, it was a special moment.

“I’m speechless! I waited seven years for this. I moved to the state of Pennsylvania where I could vote. I stayed there for about a year and a half then I moved back here when my mother got sick. In Pennsylvania, your rights are automatically restored once you did your time,” Alisha Adams said.

Jonathan Jackson had a similar response.

“It’s awesome. This is a good opportunity. This is a good thing, it’s a big deal and others should take advantage of it if they are an ex-felon and meet the criteria. It’s good to be a regular citizen again,” he remarked.

Limited before

It was a long, tough journey for many of them.

“It takes away from a lot of things that you can’t do if you don’t have your rights back once you get out because you are limited to certain things as an ex-felon,’’ Jackson explained. “When you get the opportunity to do other things, you venture away from what you used to do or what got you in trouble in the first place.’’

Adams echoed, “Florida has a strenuous clemency process, which is depressing. Being a felon is depressing because it takes your citizenship away. I can’t complain today because Florida has made it where we can now vote. I was going to make sure I came. I wish other ex-felons would come out and register.”

More drives

Amendment 4 becoming a reality is a not only a win for ex-felons who can now vote, but also social justice and civil rights organizations that fought for this over the years as well.

Slater emphasized, “This is a huge victory. This could make a major difference in voter turnout. Elections have consequences. People have been asking for this for a long time and now that they have the opportunity to register to vote.

“Voter turnout is important. Voters rights is important. We must ensure for these people as well,” Slater added.

Slater said more voter registration drives are coming.

“This is just the beginning. We plan to do more Amendment 4 voter registration drives as well as other voter registration and voter information update drives. We will work with other organizations, students, clergy, civil leaders and those who see the need in the community,’’ she noted.

The NAACP also wants to address voter apathy in the Black community.

Slater stressed, “We need to stop having 45 percent Black voter turnout in Daytona. We must find a way to increase the numbers.”

DeSantis holdup?

There are also concerns that Amendment 4 will be held up. Incoming Governor Ron DeSantis said last month that he thinks it should be delayed until the state legislature can get him a bill to with “implementing language.’’

The 2019 Florida Legislative session begins on March 5.

Election officials will proceed with their voter registration application processes.

“We have not heard anything from the governor. We did receive an email from the new secretary of state making it very clear to process all applications as usual,” Lisa Lewis, Volusia County’s supervisor of elections, stated via email on Wednesday.

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