Joe Henderson: Only one “fix” is needed on Amendment 4

Just do what people intended when they restored voting rights for felons who completed their prison sentences

State Sen. Jeff Brandes said lawmakers will consider all options next year to fix their fixes on Amendment 4, the measure voters strongly approved in 2018 to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences.

I can save them a lot of time on this one if they’ll do what voters intended.

People believed the amendment restored the vote for non-violent felons who completed their prison terms.

You know that, and I know that.

Members of the Legislature know that, too.

That didn’t matter, though. GOP lawmakers decided sentences aren’t complete until the applicant pays all fines and court costs. That locks many ex-inmates out of the voting booth, and only a cynic will say that was the idea all along. By the way, I’m a cynic on things like this.

And there is the confusing voter registration form at the center of the mess.

There are three boxes on the applications, and applicants must check one.

  1. They were never convicted of a felony;
  2. Their rights were restored through clemency;
  3. Their rights were restored through Amendment 4.

That seems simple enough, except the third box provided a way to challenge every applicant. How could someone prove they had paid all fines and costs in full? That was effectively a deal-breaker because providing incorrect information can be a third-degree felony.

Court clerks across the state say that spotty records make it hard to prove the costs have been satisfied, and Hinkle called that an “administrative nightmare.”

Without the financial requirement, ex-felons could confidently say yes, their prison sentences are complete, and they can legally vote.

There also was a previous ruling that held the state couldn’t prevent people from voting because of finances. The extra caveat about paying off the fines and costs runs completely counter to that.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle recently excoriated legislators for that maneuver and strongly suggested they correct it forthwith. He will rule on the legality of the “fix” in a few weeks but said the best place fo do that is the Legislature.

He is correct.

Rep. Jamie Grant, who crafted the fix in the last Session, conceded to the Tampa Bay Times that Hinkle had administered a “spanking.”

“The reason the third box came up as an idea was, how do I tell government, ‘This is an Amendment 4 case. Get on it. Do what you need to give this person an answer quickly and efficiently?’” he said.

He and Brandes said an easy fix would be to eliminate the third box, but there is an easier fix.

Just eliminate the payment requirement, and Brandes said, “I think everything is on the table.”

Only one thing needs to be.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Amanda

    October 20, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    I voted yes on amendment 4 because I considered “all terms of the sentence” to included restitution and fines, as the information supporting the amendment implied and said the their literature. If less than 5% of the people who voted yes thought like I did, and would not have voted yes if it only included prison sentence, then the amendment would not have passed so the legislature 100% did the right thing given the language of the amendment.

  • John Kociuba

    October 20, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Dear Citizens ~

    Re: Joe Henderson

    Do any of you believe the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted to have “High Crime” criminals access to voting you’re one dumb son-of-a-b#tch to American history.

    Yes. Criminals, illegal aliens, dead citizens voting caused unprecedented corruption and tyranny which States like New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois still suffer today.

    The Legislative Council For State Of Florida Was Criminal! Citizens voted blind because Amendment books weren’t distributed in every voting booth so citizens could actually read the language. Yes. Without that “FULL DISCLOSURE” was nullvoid.

    How many of you or your children have a proper civics education? Ever read “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat? The Communist Specter thrives when education is suppressed.


  • Dave

    October 21, 2019 at 9:38 am

    Exactly correct, Mr. Henderson. Instead of tailoring their platform to serve the interests of all of their constituents, the GOP would rather unconstitutionally game the system to amplify the advantage of their wealthy donors. Their efforts to disenfranchise voters and subvert democracy is a disgrace, and their “fix” to amendment 4 is a blatant and egregious example of that.

  • omia

    October 21, 2019 at 11:11 am

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  • Thomas

    October 21, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    I voted yes on amendment 4 and it was my understanding that after people finish their jail sentences and probation sentences they would automatically be able to vote.

    If completion of a sentence means payment of restitution, fines, and fees, then logically they should still be in jail or on probation. The government never forced payment before. Why suddenly now? Simple: because of the vote.

    Actually, I was not surprised at all when the republicans passed the law adding things to the amendment that were never there (oh I’m sorry, I should have said “implementing”) because they have a history of voter suppression only because they want to remain in power since more people belong to the democratic party than the republican party.

    Now that amendment 4 added millions of more voters into the mix, there will be even more democratic votes and republicans will have little chance of winning elections especially in urban areas. They will be limited to less populous rural areas. In short, Florida will become like New York and California; democratic strongholds.

    It’s all about republican preservation big time.

  • Tom

    October 26, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    I agree with the above Thomas and with Joe Henderson. Well said by both, no need to add anything.

Comments are closed.


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