Civil-rights advocates in Florida are pushing to put a fundamental democratic question on the ballot: Should people convicted of felonies be able to vote? Florida bars an estimated 1.7 million people with felony records from voting unless they successfully petition the state to regain their rights. Its population of disenfranchised people with felony records accounts for more than a quarter of the 6.1 million nationally, according to the Sentencing Project, which advocates for criminal justice policy changes. Only Kentucky and Iowa currently maintain similar restrictions on voting. Every state except Maine and Vermont disenfranchises felons in some way, but in most states, they regain the right to vote automatically either after leaving prison, or completing probation and parole. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has used executive authority to restore voting rights to 154,000 former felons in the last two years.
Organizers in Florida are pushing to lift voting barriers through a ballot measure and have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures in support ahead of a February deadline to make November’s election. At the same time, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission—which meets every 20 years to consider changes to the state constitution and is currently at work—is weighing at least three proposed amendments that also would restore voting rights to some people with felony records.