The committee traveling the state on a mission to improve Florida’s constitution is hearing one message over and over. “Every place we’ve gone around the state, every single time we’ve had public comment, a full third have mentioned restoration of rights,” said Chris Smith, one of 37 members of the state Constitutional Revision Commission. Voting rights are revoked in Florida when a person is a convicted of a felony. It’s one of just three states with such a rule, the others being Iowa and Virginia. Florida has disenfranchised 1.5 million people because of felony convictions, according to the nonprofit Sentencing Project, which says that figure includes 21 percent — more than one in five — of the state’s African-Americans. Florida’s disenfranchisement rate is the highest among the 50 states, according to the organization, which said Florida is connected to more than a quarter of the people nationwide who have lost their right to vote.
For years a coalition of civil rights groups has been working to get enough signatures to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies.
Floridians for a Fair Democracy, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, has a proposal slated for the 2018 general election that would allow ex-felons to vote once they have completed their sentences, including probation or parole, as long as they weren’t convicted of murder or sex crimes.