Amendment 4 grants ex-felons ability to register to vote, but it's far from a done deal

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tuesday marks the day many Floridians convicted of felonies are scheduled to be able to register to exercise their right to vote.

They were granted the right in November with the passing of Amendment 4. The amendment passed with 65 percent of the vote.

The change means as many as 1.5 million people will now be able to register to vote.

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Until now, Florida was the largest state not to automatically restore voting rights to most felons who had served their sentence. Only 11 other states still restrict voting rights after a person completes their sentence.

The first person in line at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office was Mildred Fernandez, who made headlines in 2011 and 2012 when she, as Orange County Commissioner and candidate for Orange County mayor, she was caught on camera taking a bribe for political favors.

Fernandez spent 22 months behind bars, followed by four years of probation. Having completed her sentence, she is eligible to vote again under Amendment 4.

"Oh my God. I feel like I'm a U.S. citizen again," Fernandez said Tuesday as she registered to vote.

Fernadez wasn't alone. Desmond Meade has been preparing for this day for nearly a decade, as he spent 15 years in prison for having a gun as a felon with drug charges. Meade was later able to attend a community college before earning a law degree at Florida International University.

"We're looking to celebrate with our supervisors of election, in every single county of this state, as returning citizens from all walks of life, from all political persuasions, actually take that step to become full citizens again," said Meade.

Kyle Williford said he thought he'd never be able to vote again after spending three years behind bars for burglary.

"It never crossed my mind that I'd be able to vote again. I assumed that was something that was done," he said.


Since being released from prison in March, Williford said he's found a job and enrolled in college. He said being able to vote brings him one step closer to some normalcy.

"The passing of Amendment 4 shows that people do believe in compassion. And they do believe in grace," he said.

Ex-offender David Ayala's emotions were also running high.

"The emotions are running through me right now," said Ayala. "I lost my right to vote before I could even vote. Before I knew how important it was."

Amendment 4 does not apply to ex-offenders who committed sex crimes or murder.

Certain elements of the amendment are still causing debate.

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis said he wants lawmakers to take another look at the amendment in March when the legislature is back in session before it goes into effect.

DeSantis will be sworn into office Tuesday.

Officials said convicted felons who send in their registration forms now may not know whether of not their registration goes through until those forms make it to the secretary of state's office.

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