Florida felons face uphill battle as voting rights set to be restored

(WSVN) - As of next Tuesday, 1.4 million ex-felons will be able to register to vote in Florida. Florida voters gave felons their voting rights back last November, but questions are now being raised by incoming lawmakers about how the new law should be carried out. 7’s Brian Entin explains how the will of the people supports these felons’ fight.

Anthony Durden says he was a teenager when he first saw the inside of a jail cell.

Anthony Durden: “I was charged with armed robbery, aggravated assault, resisting arrest with violence, battery on a law enforcement officer.”

Anthony admits he made mistakes, but over the last decade he’s turned things around and just wants to have a normal life, including the right to vote.

Anthony Durden: “Although I wasn’t allowed to vote, it got me more active in the community in terms of getting other voters out.”

Valencia Gunder is also a felon, convicted of passing a worthless bank check while trying to pay her college tuition.

Even though she’s a community activist who’s worked hard to get others out and voting, she hasn’t been able to vote since 2010, which is why she worked hard to get Amendment 4 passed.

Valencia Gunder: “Just because a person may have made a mistake or two in life doesn’t mean they should be punished forever.”

And Valencia will be able to register to vote here in Miami-Dade County, but the question is, will she ever be actually allowed to vote?

Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and other leading Florida lawmakers want to review the law before there’s another election — a move the ACLU says is unnecessary.

Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida: “The amendment is self-executing. We specifically used those terms because it means the language is unambiguous, it’s clear, and it’s a mandatory requirement.”

The amendment, approved by voters, very simply gave most felons the right to vote. Period.

Despite that, the governor-elect says he plans to have the law reviewed by the legislature and/or the executive clemency board.

What is unclear is how that will affect the felons who do register to vote.

Valencia Gunder: “Jan. 8 I’ll be a registered voter again. I’ll have my rights restored.”

The Florida Division of Elections says, for now, it will comply with Amendment 4 as written, but in a statement said it would have to follow any directives down the road:

“The Florida 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.”

The legislature is not back in session until March. The ACLU says it will be watching closely.

Nancy Abudu: “It is an unnecessary move. It’s going to needlessly take up time and taxpayers’ dollars, perhaps depending on how he tries to implement these road blocks and barriers, and it’s also going to be an unnecessary distraction for the legislature, who has a lot of work to do.”

As of now, it’s unclear what lawmakers or the governor-elect will do, so this voting rights fight continues.

7News’ political analyst says it’s not unusual for a new law to be reviewed by the legislature before being implemented. Lawmakers can use the review to clarify the language of the amendment. If major changes are made by lawmakers, the whole issue could end up in court.

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