Florida voters will decide this fall whether 1.5 million felons will get their voting rights back.
Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade, of Orlando, successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures in their years-long petition drive, just a week before the deadline to reach the required total of about 766,000. Because of that, the state on Tuesday certified the initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot.
If approved by 60 percent of voters, the amendment would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions after they fully complete their sentences, including parole or probation. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would continue to be barred from voting.
“The moment I found out, tears just started streaming down my face,” said Meade, a former addict convicted on drug and firearm charges in 2001. Though he went on to earn a law degree, he could not vote for his wife, Sheena, in her unsuccessful bid for the Florida House in 2016. “As someone directly impacted, I cannot quantify the level of emotion moving through me right now.”
If the amendment becomes law, it could have a huge effect on elections in a state as evenly split politically as Florida. Gov. Rick Scott was elected and re-elected by margins of fewer than 65,000 votes, while President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state by fewer than 120,000 votes.
Darryl Paulson, a conservative Heritage Foundation member and an amendment supporter, said while most former felons tend to support Democrats, studies have shown only a third of former felons would register if allowed. Only about a fifth would actually ever vote, he said.
“It runs both ways,” said Paulson, emeritus professor of government at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. “Democrats clearly support the issue because they believe they will benefit, and Republicans tend to oppose it because they believe they will be hurt.”
“My position is it’s not a good way to make public policy based on how it might impact an election sometime down the road,” he said. “Voting rights restoration is economically right, morally right and just the right thing to do.”
Florida is one of just three states that permanently bans ex-felons from voting unless they get clemency.
H/t reader kevin a.
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