Florida felons may regain their voting rights just in time for the 2020 presidential election, after activist group Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade of Orlando, gathered nearly 800,000 certified signatures for the upcoming November 6 ballot, with over 1.1 million total signatures collected.
As it stands now, restoration of voting rights requires a full pardon, conditional pardon, or clemency granted by the Governor – after a 5- or 7-year waiting period, depending on the seriousness of the offense.
If the new amendment approved by at least 60 percent of voters, voting rights would be fully restored to Florida felons who have completed their sentences – including parole or probation, however the legislation would continue to bar those convicted of murder or sexual offenses from voting.
If the amendment becomes law, it could have a huge effect on elections in a state as evenly split politically as Florida. Gov. Rick Scott was elected and re-elected by margins of fewer than 65,000 votes, while President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state by fewer than 120,000 votes. –Orlando Sentinel
Meade’s effort began in 2015, with volunteers crisscrossing Florida to collect signatures in all 27 congressional districts. Last April, the Florida Supreme Court approved the language contained within the proposed amendment after enough signatures were gathered to qualify for a review.
Two other proposals restoring voting rights to felons were approved last week by a committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. One proposed by former state Sen. Chris Smith is similar to Meade’s amendment, while another by state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, would exclude a larger number of felons, including those convicted of burglary and a dozen other crimes.
Neither of those, however, would appear on the ballot unless the full commission OKs them. –Orlando Sentinel
According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. “It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote, in some cases permanently. Over the last few decades, the general trend has been toward reinstating the right to vote at some point, although this is a state-by-state policy choice.”
- In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.
- In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.
- In 22 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.
- In 12 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, or face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored.