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Jon Mills: Redemption

How was it possible for Amendment 4, the amendment restoring the voting rights of former felons, to get 64.55 percent of the vote in Florida? All statewide partisan races were close.

Clearly, this vote was not partisan. I think the reason is one basic human instinct. Redemption.

Americans believe in second chances. They believe in redemption. That’s why a bipartisan supermajority passed a clear mandate to automatically restore the ability to vote to felons who have paid their debt to society.

The Amendment is unambiguous. A unanimous Florida Supreme Court approved the Amendment for the ballot and said the proposal would “lead voters to understand that the chief purpose of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felon offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence.”

Voters overwhelmingly agreed with that explicit purpose.

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The Amendment goes into effect Jan. 8. The current process for voter registration is logical and this new provision fits neatly into the statutory design. First, every prospective voter fills out a form that is uniform statewide. Question 2 of the current form asks individuals to “affirm that I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored.”

That’s the right question. Now, any former felon who has completed all terms of their sentence may answer that question. Of course, everyone who fills in a voter registration form must be honest. Willfully falsifying information is a felony.

Second, the Secretary of State researches and determines if the sentence is completed. If not, the Secretary notifies the Supervisor of Elections of the individual who may potentially be removed from the rolls.

The Supervisor notifies the individual and that individual has the right to dispute that determination. In other words, this process trusts the individual applicant until there is credible proof otherwise.

There is reason to be optimistic about the implementation of Amendment 4. Many Supervisors of Election have been encouraging to those whose rights have been restored to register. The new leadership of the state has an opportunity to support and encourage the fundamental right to vote.

There is no need for the Legislature to enact new laws for the Amendment to take effect. The amendment says “any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored.”

As of Jan. 8, that language is a constitutional mandate. The voters trust that the officials responsible for implementing the will of the voters will do so.

Amendment 4 is not a hypothetical academic exercise. Real people who could not previously vote want to exercise their fundamental American right to vote. Now they can.

There is someone you know who will be affected by this Amendment. Starting Jan. 8, any eligible individual with a felony conviction who has completed all the terms of their sentence should register to vote by completing a voter registration form.

Individuals may also register via the Florida Online Voter Registration System at registertovoteflorida.gov.

We should all celebrate Florida’s commitment to redemption and the fundamental right to vote.

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Jon Mills is one of the authors of Amendment 4. He represented the issue in the Florida Supreme Court. He has co-authored more than five current provisions of the Florida Constitution. He is Dean Emeritus of the Levin College of Law, Counsel to Boies Schiller and Flexner and former Speaker of the Florida House.

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