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US Former felons in Florida cast their first ballots in early voting

02:30  27 october  2020
02:30  27 october  2020 Source:   cbsnews.com

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Convicted felons in Florida who completed their sentences are voting for the first time under Voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot initiative in 2018. Previously, the state of Florida © Marta Lavandier/AP Supporters of restoring Florida felons ' voting rights march to an early voting

Convicted felons in Florida who completed their sentences are voting for the first time under Florida 's Amendment 4, and experts say the change could potentially swing the presidential election. Under the amendment, which was passed in 2018, a person convicted of a felony in the state as of

"Free the vote!" chanted Ijaymn Gray, 40, his fist held high, as he marched shoulder-to-shoulder with his father Randy Hudnell, 63, towards an early voting location in Miami, Florida. Dozens of voting rights activists and marchers filed in behind them, their fingers flashing the number four, symbolizing Florida's landmark Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote for many former inmates in the state.  

a man wearing a hat: voting3.jpg © Alex Pena/CBS News voting3.jpg

Between the two of them, the father-son duo had spent over 50 years in and out of the Florida prison system, and nearly their entire lives apart. Prior to the passing of Amendment 4, their status as former felons meant neither had ever cast a ballot.  

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Florida is allowing convicted felons to vote for first time in presidential election after completing their sentences. Already, more than 6million have voted in the sunshine state through early voting or mail-in ballots . More than 6million people in Florida have already cast votes .

On the ballot : • U.S. House • State Senate • State House • Special state legislative • Supreme court • Appellate courts • Local judges • State ballot measures • Local ballot measures • School boards • Municipal. Voting policies are enacted and enforced primarily at the state level.

a man riding a skateboard up the side of a road: Randy Hudnell raises four fingers to represent Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to most former felons in Florida who'd completed their sentences. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News © Provided by CBS News Randy Hudnell raises four fingers to represent Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to most former felons in Florida who'd completed their sentences. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News

"I've been waiting on this moment for my entire life," Gray told CBS News. "This is an award-winning, historic moment for me, and for my father. Between the both of us, we have 103 years of not voting." 

Gray cast his first-ever vote last year in a local Miami election once the amendment allowed him to register. His father had never seen the inside of a voting booth until this day.  

"I'm so proud of him. They opened the door and they let me in," said Hudnell of his son's activism, which ultimately led to Gray helping his father register to vote.  

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Early Voting is when a person casts a ballot prior to Election Day at a location designated by the Supervisor of Elections and deposits the voted ballot into the tabulation voting system. The voting equipment used during early voting is the same as the equipment used on Election Day.

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The door was opened in 2018 when Floridians passed  Amendment 4 to the state constitution during the midterm elections. Florida was one of only four states in the country that did not automatically restore a right to vote for its citizens after being convicted of a felony and completing their sentence.  

a man standing on a sidewalk: Ijaymn Gray, 40, and his father Randy Hudnell, 63, cast early ballots in the 2020 presidential election. They regained the right to vote under Florida's Amendment 4. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News © Provided by CBS News Ijaymn Gray, 40, and his father Randy Hudnell, 63, cast early ballots in the 2020 presidential election. They regained the right to vote under Florida's Amendment 4. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News

Before the passage of Amendment 4, "returned citizens," as advocates of the amendment prefer to call former felons, had to go through a long and arduous clemency board application process, with the governor sitting at the head. The number of approvals ebbed and flowed depending on whether Democrats or Republicans were heading the board.   

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Three swing states — Florida , Iowa and Virginia — have some of the harshest laws; they impose a lifetime voting ban on felons , although their voting But even a small turnout among this group could turn a close election. The margin of victory in Florida in the 2000 presidential election between Al

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Amendment 4 was approved with over 65% of the vote and automatically restored the right to vote to approximately 1.4 million former felons in Florida. But it almost immediately faced hurdles from the newly elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. After a series of revisions pushed through by Republican lawmakers, the amendment was effectively gutted, with new rules requiring  former felons to pay off all their fines, court fees and restoration to victims before being eligible to vote.

"I am pleased that 'Florida Courts' confirms that amendment 4 requires fines, fees & restitution be paid to victims before their voting rights may be restored. Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly," DeSantis tweeted earlier this year.   

It marked a major blow to the historic expansion of voting rights — advocates called it the equivalent of a "poll tax," and argued Republicans feared the re-enfranchised 1.4 million former felons might be the key to a Democratic victory in the crucial swing state this November.  

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President Trump said he voted Saturday “for a guy named Trump" in his adopted home state of Florida before jetting off to campaign in three battleground states . PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, not much, it was a very secure vote . Much more secure than when you send in a ballot , I can tell you that.

Traditionally there is a significant decrease in the number of votes cast the farther down the ballot a contest or issue is placed. Florida is one of four states that ban felons who have served their time from voting . The clemency process has gyrated dramatically in recent years. During former Gov.

The billionaire and former Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg even put his money into the mix, raising $16 million to help pay the fines and fees of those former felons wishing to register. The money was channeled through the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a nonpartisan voter-rights organization headed by Desmond Meade, who as a former felon himself led the charge for Amendment 4's passage.  

But the push to register those hundreds of thousands of former felons hasn't fully met expectations. Georgetown University associate professor of law Neel Sukhatme and his team collected data on 850,000 former felons in Florida, and found that only about 45,000 have registered to vote since the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018.  

He co-founded a nonpartisan, nonprofit website called "Free our vote," which helps former felons in Florida decipher if they owe any fees, and if so how much.  

"Folks are not registering in the numbers we would expect," Sukhatme told CBS News. "I think part of it is that there's this legal uncertainty that's been created by this SB 7066," the legislation enacted by the state of Florida to require the payment of all fines, fees, and restitutions prior to registering to vote. 

"It's chilling the right to vote because folks are just kind of getting scared," said Sukhatme.  

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  • Ex-felons face new hurdles when registering to vote in Florida: inaccurate records

However, the new legislation did not prevent Gray and Hudnell from registering. Both quietly slipped away from the gathered group — anxious but proud — and walked into the polling place to cast their first vote for a United States president.  

"The feeling I felt was breathtaking," said Gray. "It was amazing. When I put that pen to the paper, I finally got a voice. I finally did it. It's finally official — I am a resident of this country."  

a close up of a man: Randy Hudnell celebrating as he voted for the first time in the 2020 election. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News © Provided by CBS News Randy Hudnell celebrating as he voted for the first time in the 2020 election. / Credit: Alex Pena/CBS News

Police, experts monitoring extremist groups to see if poll watchers try to disrupt voting .
The states with the highest risk for election-related violence by armed extremist groups are Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Oregon.President Donald Trump, who has falsely claimed voter fraud is widespread, has called for an army of poll watchers to ensure the election is fair. Right-wing extremist groups have signaled they plan to heed the call. Left-wing groups have vowed to confront people they believe are engaged in voter suppression.

usr: 5
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