Florida OKs Measure to Restore Voting Rights to Felons

By: - November 7, 2018 12:00 am

Florida voters passed a ballot measure to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million residents with a felony conviction. Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press

This story is part of Stateline’s midterm election coverage.

Florida voters have lifted the state’s lifetime ban on voting for people with a felony conviction.

The Florida measure restores voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million residents. Currently, people can only get their right to vote restored by an appeal to the governor.

“Florida voters made a resoundingly clear statement that the state’s shameful lifetime ban on voting is not consistent with the values of democracy,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. The group donated million to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group of formerly incarcerated people who led the campaign.

Supporters of the ballot measure argued that people with a conviction deserve a second chance once they have paid their debt to society.

The law allows people to vote only once they have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole, which may last years or even decades after a person has served jail or prison time. Those convicted of murder or sex crimes remain ineligible to have their rights restored under the new law.

Florida has one of the strictest felony disenfranchisement laws in the United States along with the largest population of those unable to vote because of a prior conviction. About a quarter of the nation’s estimated 6 million people disenfranchised because of a criminal record live in the Sunshine State.

Just two other states — Kentucky and Iowa — impose lifetime bans on voting for felons, but most restrict access to the ballot while people are behind bars or under the supervision of a probation or parole officer. Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow people to vote while serving time.

The laws disproportionately impact African-Americans. Nationwide 2.5 percent of people are disenfranchised because of their record compared with 7.4 percent of African-Americans. The statistics are more severe in Florida, where 21 percent of the state’s disenfranchised population is black.

The measure had little organized opposition, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, opposed the concept. Other opponents of the measure argued that voting rights should be restored on a case-by-case basis.

The state clemency board which is tasked with reviewing pleas for restoring voting rights, was slammed earlier this year by a federal judge who called the process “crushingly restrictive” and later ordered the board to adopt strict criteria and timelines for reviewing applications.

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Rebecca Beitsch

Rebecca Beitsch writes about energy and the environment for Stateline. She covered state government in Missouri and North Dakota, writing about politics and policy for NewsRadio KMOX, the Columbia Missourian and the Bismarck Tribune.