Thousands of convicted felons in West Volusia and across Florida are now eligible to register to vote, as Amendment 4 came into effect Jan. 8.
Wasting no time, several now-eligible felons registered to vote Tuesday morning at the Volusia County Department of Elections.
Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis said their registrations will be treated no differently than those of any other prospective voter.
“Absolutely, yes. Anybody who registers, we’re going to accept,” she said.
The amendment, which automatically restores the right to vote to most people with prior felony convictions upon completion of their sentences, passed in the Nov. 6 election with 64.5 percent of the vote statewide, and 60.3 percent support in Volusia County.
Among those now eligible to register was DeLand businessman Mario Davis.
“I haven’t been able to vote since 2006, and today, those rights were restored,” he said.
In June 2006, then 22-year-old Davis was involved in convenience-store holdups near DeLand and Pierson. Davis also was convicted of drug trafficking in an incident about a month later in South Florida.
After serving 36 months on the drug charge, he was released in 2010. Davis pleaded no contest to one of the DeLand robbery-related charges, where adjudication of guilt was withheld, and the state dropped the other charges.
In the Pierson incident, he received a suspended seven-year prison sentence, and 10 years of probation. His probation was terminated early in 2017.
Over the years, Davis had turned his life around, and earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.
He founded a financial-services firm, and is a leader at Greater Union First Baptist Church, where he is executive director of Greater Union Life Center Inc., a nonprofit promoting healthier living, economic stability and community engagement.
Yet, as a result of his past, he wasn’t able to vote for his wife, DeLand City Commissioner Jessica Davis, when she ran in 2014.
“I’m a taxpaying citizen; I’m a homeowner; I’m a business owner. I have employees, and the only thing I’m not able to do is vote. I feel like many of my rights have been restored, and I feel like many of the opportunities that others have, I haven’t had with this, primarily because I wasn’t able to vote,” Davis said.
Now, he is helping other eligible convicted felons register to vote.
“What we’ve done is created a collaborative coalition made up of various people to essentially go out and identify who these people are and have them register to vote,” he said.
Davis said there are 30,042 convicted felons in Volusia County, citing data from the Clerk of Courts office.
Convicted felons eligible to register under Amendment 4 don’t need to present any kind of proof that they’ve completed their sentences, Lewis said.
When any prospective voter submits a registration, their information is sent to several state agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections, to check their eligibility.
The agencies would then notify the Department of Elections if a prospective voter was ineligible due to having been convicted of a felony, or for other reasons.
In all, about 10 people registered to vote Tuesday — a couple more than might be expected this time of year, Lewis said.
However, it remains unclear how the state government will handle registrations of felons, now that the amendment has gone into effect.
New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was sworn in the same day the amendment went into effect, has said the amendment shouldn’t go into effect until the Florida Legislature passes “implementing language” in a bill, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
That would mean a two-month delay for felons wishing to register, at minimum, since the legislative session begins March 5.
Advocates of the amendment, however, claim that it is self-executing — meaning, it goes into effect immediately, without requiring legislation.
The uncertainty leaves prospective voters with felony convictions waiting to see if the state challenges their registrations.
Ida Wright, a Volusia County School Board member and chair of the Minority Elected Officials of Volusia County, said she was excited about Amendment 4 taking effect, and said she hopes state officials remain true to the will of voters.
“We just want to see the process follow through,” she said. ”I want to make sure that as elected officials, that we do what our citizens have asked us to do, and that is to restore the rights of former convicted felons who have served their sentences and paid their restitution, and allow them to become voters.”
As a member of the School Board and an educator, Wright said the amendment may help former students get their lives back on track, after youthful indiscretions.
“I’m sure some of my students may have at some time lost their right to vote because they did something at a very young age,” Wright said. “I would like to see them be able to take part in their rights as a citizen to be able to vote, for the first time, possibly, and get engaged.”
The amendment’s broad support at the polls also reflects how Florida has changed over recent years, she added.
“I think Florida has become a true melting pot. We’ve had so many people from all over the country move to the state, where their mindset as well as their views and their politics are totally different,” Wright said. “So when it comes to how they feel and what they think, I think they just bring in a new prospect of what should happen … I think you will see that many of them have more things that are in common than not in common.”