The new year could mark a major milestone toward hundreds of thousands of Floridians regaining the right to vote. The Florida Supreme Court in March will hear arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow felons — except murderers and sex offenders — to have their voting rights restored after they complete prison and probation. Just over 6 million felons in the United States are unable to vote, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison reform group. About 1.7 million of them live in Florida, which amounts to more than 10 percent of the state’s voting population.
Florida is one of just three states that takes away voting rights for life, and the state’s population is far larger than the other two, Mississippi and Kentucky. Most states restore voting rights after felons have served their sentences, including parole and probation. Vermont and Maine even allow absentee voting from prison.
A political action committee, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, is pushing for the change and gathered the needed signatures required for a Supreme Court review. If approved, and the group can gather another 600,000 signatures, the proposed amendment could be before voters in the 2018 election.
“Each year about 170,000 people in Florida are convicted of felony offenses, but slightly less than 25 percent are sent to prison,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. “So the overwhelming majority of people we’re talking about are people who haven’t spent one day in prison. They’re out in the community trying to regain their lives. They’re our family, our friends, our congregations.”