Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you. The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2. Only two other states have that tough a policy. Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer. Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.
Now, some members of the Florida Legislature, as well as voting-rights groups, are pushing a state constitutional amendment that would return the vote to convicted felons — except those found guilty of murder or sexual offenses — after they have served their time and completed parole and probation.
“After someone has served their sentence, they shouldn’t keep being punished for the rest of their life,” said Jessica Chiappone, a Boca Raton lawyer who chairs the political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy.
Laws nationwide on whether convicted felons can vote vary widely. In Vermont and Maine, the currently incarcerated can vote by absentee ballot, while Florida, Kentucky and Iowa are at the harshest end of the spectrum, mandating that all ex-felons lose their civil rights until they petition to have them back. In other states, ex-felons generally get their rights back when they get out of prison or off probation.