State Attorney Brian Kramer and six North Florida county Supervisors of Elections have announced a joint program to help restore voting rights to convicted felons.
The “V8th” Voter Education Program is a joint project between Kramer’s office and the six counties that comprise the Eighth Judicial Circuit—Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union. The new program will help a former felon obtain eligibility to vote based on Kramer’s opinion on whether an individual has completed all the terms of his or her sentence.
According to a Kramer press release, the program stems from the state constitutional amendment Florida voters passed in 2018. Known as “Amendment 4” (Fla. Const. Art. VI, § 4), it automatically re-enfranchises previously convicted felons, with the exception of those who were convicted of murder or a sexual offense, once they have completed all of the terms of their sentences.
The announcement comes two months after Florida prosecutors brought charges of voter fraud against nine Alachua County residents who registered and voted from the county jail in 2020.
“There was significant litigation surrounding the language of the amendment, ‘voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation,’” Kramer said in a statement. “This litigation is now settled and, as State Attorney, I am bound to enforce the law as it is interpreted by the courts.
“So, while opinions may differ, it is abundantly clear that mine does not matter,” Kramer said. “The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the phrase, ‘all terms of sentence,’ as used in Article VI, Section 4 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, has an ‘ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood to refer not only to durational period but also to all legal financial obligations imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt.’”
Kramer stated that the conundrum came for people who have been convicted of a felony who wanted to vote but still had to satisfy financial obligations that included court costs, fines and restitution, and that it is not always easy to know if the convicted person has completed all of their financial obligations.
“There are a variety of reasons for this, and these reasons vary from person to person and case to case,” Kramer said in the statement. “For example, at the time of sentencing, if a defendant is being sentenced to incarceration, but not probation, that person may understandably give little regard to the financial penalties associated with the conviction.
“It may take years before that person is released,” he said. “The individual may not be well versed in invigorating the complexities of multiple clerks’ offices or the department of corrections to make the necessary determination of the status of the legal financial obligations.”
According to the release, Kramer decided to create the V8th program to help address the fine line between felons who want the ability to vote and potentially commit a new felony offense if they are unaware if obligations have been met.
“This program will serve the dual function of effectuating Amendment 4 and enhancing election security,” Kramer said. “We will accomplish this by offering my opinion on whether an individual has completed all the terms of his or her sentence.”