United States

Florida voters to decide whether to restore voting rights to former felons

Some 1.5 million convicted felons could have their right to vote restored. That could play a significant role in future elections in Florida, where races are often won by small margins.

Florida voters will have the chance to decide in November whether some 1.5 million convicted felons will be allowed to vote in future elections.

If passed, a constitutional amendment, called the Voting Restoration Amendment, would restore voting rights to citizens convicted of felonies who have completed their prison sentence, including parole and probation. The Amendment doesn’t apply to people who’ve committed murder or sexual offenses.

To qualify to appear on the ballot in November, the amendment needed to gather 766,200 petition signatures. It surpassed that on Tuesday.

“The opportunity for a second chance is an American value, and the Voting Restoration Amendment will give Floridians who have completed their sentence the opportunity to fully participate in our democracy,” Howard Simon, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, wrote in a statement.

Restrictive laws

The United States has a long history of voter disenfranchisement. In Florida, the post-Civil War constitution drafted in 1865 prohibited blacks from voting. In 1868, it was revised to allow “all males” to vote, but continued to leave out ex-felons.

Florida currently has one of the most restrictive voting bans in the nation. It is one of only four states that completely prohibit felons from regaining their right to vote after they complete their sentence (the others are Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia).

As it currently stands, a felon released from jail has to petition the governor to get his or her right restored. But in practice, that rarely happens.

During his term as governor, from 2007 to 2011, Republican Charlie Crist restored the voting rights of some 150,000 felons. But the rules changed under the current governor, Rick Scott, who took office in 2010. As of April, Scott had restored voting rights to fewer than 3,000 people.

A political shift?

In Florida, where elections are often won by small margins, restoring voting rights could make a big difference in future races. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton lost Florida by 113,000 votes.

According to a 2016 analysis, if Floridians with felony convictions were allowed to register, an estimated 258,060 would sign up as Democrats, 46,920 as Republicans, and 84,456 as independent and third party.

In Alabama, newly re-enfranchised black voters helped push democrat Doug Jones to victory in the December special senate race, according to The Sentencing Project.

There are currently 100,000 people in prison in Florida.

The Voting Restoration Amendment will appear as Amendment 4 on the statewide ballot. The November ballot will also include a number of other key races, including for U.S. Senate and Florida governor.

The amendment needs the support of 60 percent of voters in November to be added to the Florida Constitution.